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

English | Cymraeg

On 2 March 2020, we’ll be seeing a big change to the way alcohol is sold in Wales, with the introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP). But many people are still unsure what MUP is, why it’s being introduced, and what it will mean for them. 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 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 will be £5 (10 x 50p)
  • A bottle of whisky or vodka contains around 26 units, and so could not be sold for less than £13 (26 x 50p)

Why is the Welsh Government doing 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 will target.

How will this affect the drinks I buy?

Moderate drinkers will notice very little difference when shopping – maybe a few pence here and there.

The biggest price increases will be for so-called 'white ciders' – strong, cheap ciders which are often sold in large plastic bottles. Some of these are set to more than double in price and may well disappear from sale in many places. Discounting of spirits will be much more difficult for shops to do. For example, 750ml bottles of vodka, whisky and gin are sometimes sold now for as little as £10. That’s set to rise to £13.

Most popular wine brands are already sold in shops at more than 50p per unit and so their prices are unlikely to change, although some wines sold in discount supermarkets are likely to go up in price. Popular beer brands are also usually sold above the level of the MUP when sold singly or in small packs. But some of the discounts that supermarkets apply when selling beer in multipacks or slabs will no longer be possible, since they often take the price below 50p per unit.

Many pubs are already struggling. Won’t this just make things worse for them?

Drinks sold in pubs are already well above the 50p per unit minimum price, and so MUP won’t affect them. For example, the minimum price means you won’t be able to 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 will create a more level playing field between pubs and supermarkets.

Isn’t this just going to put 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 is what will happen in Wales after 2 March 2020.

If it becomes clear that MUP is increasing supermarket alcohol revenues, we will be calling for any additional profits to be channelled via taxation into services to support people with alcohol problems.

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