Alcohol Concern Cymru have released a new report highlighting the widespread availability of cheap alcohol in Wales and reiterated calls for minimum unit pricing (MUP).
The report highlights findings from a snapshot survey of supermarkets and off-licences in six towns and cities across Wales, which found alcohol on sale for 15.5p per unit in one area. Alcohol Concern say that the recommended weekly guidelines of 14 units per week could therefore be purchased for little more than £2 in Rhyl, where a 3 litre bottle of Frosty Jack’s cider (22.5 units) was on sale for £3.50.
The survey identified 113 different alcoholic drinks, including ciders, beers, wines and spirits, on sale under 50p per unit - the MUP level proposed in a consultation by the Welsh Government last year. A 50 pence MUP has been sought in Scotland since passing legislation in 2012, but has since been held up by a legal challenge lead by sections of the alcohol industry.
MUP: time will tell...
The release reflects the significance of pricing in the role of alcohol policy; MUP and taxation remain key levers health groups wish to see utilised to reduce alcohol harms. Battles between pricing advocates and opponents have been hard fought, especially over work to model the impact of MUP and exactly which groups will be affected how. Sheffield have assessed that MUP would target the heaviest drinkers, so would not 'punish the sensible majority', but lower income heavy drinkers would be affected most. However still arguably beneficial to reducing health inequalities given deprived areas suffer disproportionately from alcohol harms.
A broader argument in favour or pricing measures has been based on the significant shift to cheaper off-trade alcohol for home drinking and in some contexts 'pre-loading'. Indeed the gap in extra consumption seen in Scotland is made up almost soley of off-trade sales. Pubs may be regarded on the whole as well run regulated environments, potentially playing a positive role in local communities, and crucially where prices typically sit way above posed MUP levels. Health groups recently argued that the freeze in beer and spirits duty would actually harm pubs, whose numbers continue to decline amidst a larger than ever gap between off-trade and on-trade prices.
Opponents may counter that consumption has now been falling for over a decade, though arguably a squeeze on incomes has played a significant role. There are also signs that consumption could soon be back on the up, although a large downward shift in young people's drinking could temper any future rise. Regardless, health advocates hope to see the kind of prices found in Alcohol Concern's survey a thing of the past. If the Scottish Government's MUP bid gets the green light, Wales could soon be able to follow. An EU exit would also raise an interesting questions for MUP implementation issues.