The likely success of the draft Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill will still be reliant on the outcome of the current Scottish MUP battle, still going through the European courts. Scotland first passed legislation to implement a 50 pence MUP in 2012, but a number of industry bodies represented by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) mounted a legal challenge.
The Welsh Government say introducing a 50p minimum unit price is estimated to be worth £882m to the Welsh economy in terms of reductions in illness, crime and workplace absence over 20 years.
The Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model’s Welsh findings indicated a 50 pence MUP could reduce Welsh alcohol-related hospital admissions by more than 1,400 and save 53 lives each year. Crime would also be expected to fall by an estimated 3,684 fewer offences a year; workplace absence would also fall by up to 10,000 days per year.
The Deputy Minister for Health, Vaughan Gething said “Minimum unit pricing will affect those drinks sold at an unacceptably low prices” and was “a particularly well-targeted measure as it will only have a small impact on moderate drinkers and have the biggest impact on high-risk drinkers.”
The Wine and Spirit Trade Association chief executive Miles Beale, a reliable opponent of MUP, said “It is entirely wrong that responsible consumers in Wales should be punished for the actions of an irresponsible few”.
Scotland waits.. but what about England?
The previous Coalition Government infamously u-turned on MUP, although insisted they were not ruling it out. In the full consultation response Home Office Minister Theresa May stated “we are not rejecting MUP – merely delaying it until we have conclusive evidence that it will be effective.”
Whilst many academics would state the evidence is conclusive, it is unclear what constitutes conclusive evidence in the eyes of the Minister. Early in a parliamentary term seems the most likely for any announcement adopting less popular policies such as MUP, although hearing more on this from English Ministers before Scotland’s final ruling seems unlikely.
Meanwhile Public Health England (PHE) have committed to “continue to set out the evidence base for the introduction of a minimum unit price for alcohol” as part of its alcohol plans. Northern Ireland also intend to bring in MUP.
And this is what the drinks industry had to say via BBC news:
But Wine and Spirit Trade Association chief executive Miles Beale said such changes would “unfairly ramp up the cost of over half of the drinks on supermarket shelves” while “doing nothing to tackle alcohol harm”.
“It is entirely wrong that responsible consumers in Wales should be punished for the actions of an irresponsible few,” he said.
Mr Beale also warned Welsh businesses could be hit by people shopping across the border in England and said there were serious legal questions, including whether fixing drinks prices is contrary to UK competition law.
That’s right drinks industry – ignore the research and clinical evidence base for MUP which says ‘Setting a Minimum Unit Price for alcohol is an almost perfect alcohol policy because it targets cheap booze bought by very heavy drinkers and leaves moderate drinkers completely unaffected. Our research shows that an MUP set at 50p per unit would affect the liver patients killing themselves with cheap alcohol two hundred times more than low risk drinkers‘ and focus on the ‘irresponsible few’ ………
Shall we remind you also that this research pointed out that: ‘Alcohol sold to heavy drinkers provides three-quarters of the profits of the UK drinks industry, of which alcohol sold to very heavy drinkers provides one third. When the government says it is concerned about the impact of MUP on moderate drinkers, they are simply repeating propaganda which has been put out by the drinks industry to try and preserve the huge profits they are making from people drinking at really dangerous levels’. You were saying?