With a minimum price for alcohol coming into force on 2 March, Andrew Misell, Director for Wales at Alcohol Change UK, looks at what church ministers, officials and volunteers might need to know about it.
On 2 March, we’ll be seeing a big change to the way alcohol is sold in Wales. Minimum unit pricing (MUP) has been described as “an important contribution to reducing the devastation caused by alcohol-related harm in Wales”. But many people are still unsure what MUP is, why it’s being introduced, and what it will mean for them. Those are questions I’ll be seeking to answer here.
We’ve known for many years that the price of alcohol is one of the most important factors influencing how much people drink. Most drinkers are sensitive to price, even if they don’t always realise it. The Welsh Government is seeking to use price to reduce heavy drinking, and so reduce harm. They’re setting a baseline price of 50p below which a unit of pure alcohol – that’s 10ml or 2 teaspoons of pure alcohol – cannot be sold. To give just a couple of examples, a pint of beer has around 2½ units of pure alcohol in it, and so, from March 2020, it cannot be sold for less than £1.25 (2½ x 50p). A bottle or wine has around 10 units and so will not be sold for less than £5 (10 x 50p).
You can see straight away that this will have no impact on pub prices. Where it will be felt is in supermarkets and other shops. Our research in shops in Wales indicates that the biggest impact will be on cheap, strong ciders – often sold in large plastic bottles. The prices of some cheap fortified wines and spirits are also set to rise. Some supermarket discounts – such as 25% off six bottles of wine, or second slab of beer for half the price of the first one – will not be possible if they bring the price down below 50p per unit.
Moderate drinkers are unlikely to notice much difference, but there will be a big impact on the heaviest drinkers, and that may include some of the vulnerable drinkers who use church-based services across Wales, such as night-shelters, food distribution teams and advice sessions. Evidence from Scotland – where they’ve had MUP for more than a year – does not suggest that it leads to some of the serious problems that were feared, such as drinkers going into uncontrolled withdrawal, stealing alcohol, or turning to other drugs. But many heavy drinkers will notice that their usual drinks have either gone up in price or are no longer on sale. So, it will be worth staff and volunteers who have contact with heavy drinkers being alert to this and being aware that it might come up in conversation. It will also be worthwhile making sure that staff and volunteers know which local services they can contact or refer people to with alcohol problems – there’s a full list of these on the DAN 24/7 website.
Information will also be posted on the Welsh Government and Alcohol Change UK websites.