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Welsh ministers opt for minimum alcohol price of 50p a unit

This article is more than 3 years old

Many health professionals say 50p level, planned to come into force next summer, is too low

Alcoholic drinks are advertised at an off-licence.
Alcoholic drinks are advertised at an off-licence. Photograph: Murdo Macleod/The Guardian
Alcoholic drinks are advertised at an off-licence. Photograph: Murdo Macleod/The Guardian

The Welsh government is proposing to set a minimum price per unit of alcohol at 50p in an attempt to combat problem drinking.

Vaughan Gething, the Welsh health secretary, said the move was designed to reduce the number of alcohol-related deaths and admissions.

The Welsh government had looked at a range of minimum prices ranging from 35p a unit to as high as 70p after Sheffield University researchers found that 22% of drinkers who drank at harmful levels consumed 75% of the alcohol sold in Wales.

But on Friday the government in Cardiff launched a consultation on a minimum unit price (MUP) of 50p, the level already set by the Scottish government. It plans to bring in the MUP next summer.

The government said more than half of the estimated reduction in consumption would be accounted for by harmful drinkers and there would be “minimal” impact on moderate drinkers. It added that research suggested that the change would lead to 66 fewer alcohol-attributable deaths per year and 1,28 fewer alcohol-attributable hospital admissions per year.

Gething said: “The ultimate objective of introducing a minimum unit price is to tackle alcohol-related harm, including alcohol-attributable hospital admissions and alcohol-related deaths in Wales, by reducing alcohol consumption in hazardous and harmful drinkers.

“The higher the level of MUP that is chosen, the greater the proportion of purchased alcohol that is captured and the greater the estimated impact on alcohol-related harms.

“However, there is a trade-off, as there is also a greater impact on moderate drinkers, particularly moderate drinkers in the more deprived groups. After careful consideration and on balance, my preference is that the initial level of the MUP should be set at 50p. But we will now gather views from individuals, businesses, public bodies and interested parties about the Welsh government’s preferred price of 50p.”

The Welsh government is using the same minimum price of 50p originally fixed for Scotland in 2012, despite indicating this year that Wales was considering a higher price, perhaps of 70p. Scottish minimum pricing came into force in May.

Many health professionals and the Liberal Democrats in Scotland believe that 50p is too low a price as it will not have the marked effect on alcohol abuse which they say is needed. They have pressed for it to be increased, partly due to price inflation since 2012.

Scottish ministers have said they will review that price in two or three years’ time, once the first data on hospital admissions and the behavioural impacts of the current policy are available.

In July, the UK government said MUP “remains under review” and that Public Health England would be commissioned to review the impact of MUP in Scotland.