Minimum price for alcohol in Wales – what does it mean for you?

English | Cymraeg

On 2 March 2020, there was a big change to the way alcohol is sold in Wales, with the introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP). Many people may have noticed increases in the prices of some drinks but be unsure why that has happened and what it means. Here we seek to answer some of the most commons questions asked about MUP.

What is minimum unit pricing?

Minimum unit pricing (MUP) is a way of setting a baseline price below which no one can sell an alcoholic drink. That price is based on how much alcohol is in each drink. The minimum price that’s being set in Wales is 50p per unit of alcohol. A unit of alcohol is 10ml (two teaspoons) of pure alcohol. Whether a drink is beer, cider, wine, spirits, or any other kind of alcoholic drink, its minimum price will depend on how much alcohol is in it. So, for example:

  • A standard-strength pint of beer or cider contains around 2.5 units of alcohol, so it can’t be sold in Wales for less than £1.25 (2.5 x 50p)
  • A bottle of wine has about 10 units of alcohol in it, so the minimum price for it is around £5 (10 x 50p)
  • A bottle of whisky or vodka contains around 26 units, and so cannot be sold for less than £13 (26 x 50p)

Why has the Welsh Government done this?

In Wales each year, around 1,500 people die for reasons linked to alcohol. That’s one in 20 of all deaths. At any one time, around one in 10 people staying in hospital in Wales are dependent on alcohol. Alcohol misuse also places a heavy burden on the emergency services and on local councils who have to deal with the consequences.

There is a large body of evidence from around the world that managing the price of alcohol is one of the best ways to get heavy drinkers to drink less. The heaviest drinkers tend to favour the cheapest drinks, and those are the drinks that MUP targets.

How has this affected the prices of drinks I buy?

The biggest price increases have been for so-called 'white ciders' – strong, cheap ciders which are often sold in large plastic bottles. Some of these have more than doubled in price and may well disappear from the shelves in many places. Discounting of spirits is also now more difficult for shops to do. For example, 750ml bottles of vodka, whisky and gin were sometimes sold for as little as £10. That’s risen to at least £13.

Most popular wine brands were already sold in shops at more than 50p per unit and so their prices didn't need to change, although some wines sold in discount supermarkets have gone up in price. Bulk discounts on wines - such as 25% off the price of six bottles - will only be able to continue if they don't bring the overall price below 50p per unit.

Popular beer brands were also usually sold above the level of the MUP when sold singly or in small packs. But some of the discounts that supermarkets have applied when selling beer in multipacks or slabs are no longer possible if they take the price below 50p per unit.

The prices of some cans of the cheapest supermarket own-brand beers and ciders - such as Asda Pilsner and Sainsbury's Depot No. 90 - have increased, and this is probably where some moderate drinkers are most likely to notice the effect of MUP.

Pubs are already struggling. Isn't this just making things worse for them?

Drinks sold in pubs have long been well above the 50p per unit minimum price, and so MUP hasn't affected them. For example, the minimum price means you can’t buy a pint of beer for less than £1.25 or a large glass of wine for less than about £1.65. You can see straight away that pub prices are never that low. In fact, many publicans have said that they support MUP because they believe it creates a more level playing field between pubs and supermarkets.

Isn’t this just putting money in the supermarkets’ pockets?

Most of the major alcohol producers and the big supermarkets have opposed MUP, suggesting that they believe it will hit their sales. Evidence from around the world shows that when the price of alcohol goes up, the amount people buy goes down, and we’re confident that this will happen in Wales.

Find out more about MUP

The UK's Chief Medical Officers recommend drinking no more than 14 units a week, spread over three days or more with a few days off, to help keep the health risks associated with drinking low.

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