Vaughan Gething AM, Minister for Health and Social Services
Alcohol is a major cause of death and illness in Wales. It leads to a number of health and social harms, particularly for the significant minority of people who drink to excess. In 2017, there were 540 alcohol-related deaths in Wales and in 2017-18, there were nearly 55,000 alcohol-related hospital admissions. All alcohol-related deaths and alcohol-related hospital admissions are preventable.
We have long been clear that a pricing intervention must be a key component of our comprehensive strategy to tackle alcohol misuse, not least because the affordability of alcohol has increased significantly over the past two decades. The National Assembly supported minimum pricing in June when the Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill was passed last year.
The Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Act 2018 is targeted at protecting the health of hazardous and harmful drinkers who tend to consume greater amounts of low-cost and high-strength alcohol. It provides a formula for calculating the applicable minimum price for alcohol by multiplying the percentage strength of the alcohol, its volume and the minimum unit price. This allows us to target the sale and supply of low-cost and high-strength alcohol.
The Act provides that the minimum unit price will be specified in regulations. Ahead of laying these regulations before the National Assembly for Wales, we recently consulted on a preferred minimum unit price of 50p. Today, we have today published a summary of the 148 written responses we received.
Taking into these consultation responses and other factors, we remain of the view of that a 50p minimum unit price is a proportionate response to tackling the health risks of excessive alcohol consumption – and that a 50p minimum unit price strikes a reasonable balance between the anticipated public health and social benefits and intervention in the market.
Welsh Government intends to lay regulations to the National Assembly for Wales, specifying this level, for its consideration. In the meantime, plans for implementation will continue.
Ahead of implementation, the Welsh Government will continue to work with retailers and other stakeholders – to finalise guidance, supporting documentation and communications to help people prepare. We will continue to work closely with local authorities and the Welsh Heads of Trading Standards on plans for inspection and enforcement of the legislation. We will also implement our plans to evaluate the legislation, which is currently being commissioned. In addition, we fully recognise the importance of continuing to share and publicise the public health aims of the legislation – and intend to develop further communications on the policy rationale underpinning minimum pricing for alcohol and its aims to reduce hazardous and harmful drinking.
Many responses to the consultation commented on the principle of minimum pricing and also raised concerns and issues regarding the potential unintended consequences of introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol, which we have noted. These concerns focused specifically on potential impacts on vulnerable groups, household budgets, the risk of switching to other substances and the potential increase in the number of people seeking support from services. We will continue to consider these potential issues – and have commissioned research to look at the risk of switching, which will report ahead of implementation. Furthermore, in December 2018, an extra £2.4million in funding was announced for 2019/20 for the seven Area Planning Boards who are responsible for commissioning local front line services.
Welsh Government has always said that minimum pricing forms part of a wider strategy and approach to reducing substance misuse. We will continue to use all available levers to reduce the harms caused by the excessive consumption of alcohol, as we develop and take forward a new Delivery Plan for Substance Misuse.
The summary of consultation responses is available here: https://beta.gov.wales/setting-minimum-unit-price-alcohol.