Six months after minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol was introduced in Wales, one in ten drinkers say they have been drinking less as a result. That’s the message from a survey just published by the charity Alcohol Change UK.
MUP came into force in Wales in March this year and set a baseline price of 50p for every unit (10ml) of pure alcohol sold in any kind of drink. The measure was introduced by the Welsh Government to reduce harmful drinking, by raising the price of strong, cheap drinks – such as so-called ‘white ciders’ – that are often consumed by the most vulnerable heavy drinkers.
At the beginning of September, researchers from OnePoll, on behalf of Alcohol Change UK, surveyed 1,000 adults in Wales who normally drink alcohol. Three-quarters of respondents said that they knew about MUP, compared with just half of drinkers in Wales when asked a year ago. Of people who were aware of MUP, 10% said they were drinking less alcohol because of it.
Andrew Misell, Director for Wales at Alcohol Change UK, said:
“These figures are encouraging. There seems to be much greater awareness of MUP, and there are some early indications that it has been reducing alcohol consumption.
“There is good evidence that raising the price of cheap alcohol, like strong white ciders, is one of the best ways to get the heaviest drinkers drinking less. Prior to MUP, big 3-litre bottles of 7.5% ABV cider were on sale in Wales for as little £3.99 – just 18p per unit. At 50p per unit, these same bottles cannot be sold for less than £11.25. MUP has priced them out of the market.”
Alcohol Change UK’s own research in shops in Wales suggests that one way MUP may be reducing alcohol consumption is by encouraging producers to sell their drinks in smaller containers, in order to keep them affordable under the MUP rules. A similar phenomenon has been observed in Scotland, which has had a minimum price for alcohol since 2018.
Andrew Misell said:
“Big 3-litre and 2.5-litre bottles of strong cider appear to be becoming a thing of the past in Wales as MUP makes them too expensive. In their place, we’ve seen 2-litre and 1-litre bottles and 500ml cans.
“The experience of frontline alcohol support workers is that when heavy drinkers have to buy their alcohol in smaller containers like this, it tends to put the brakes on their drinking a bit. It slows down the drinking process and creates more pauses at which someone may choose to stop for the day. In the same way, it creates more opportunities for support workers to come alongside people, help them take control of their drinking, and start them on their road to recovery.”
The survey results also show how drinking patterns in Wales have been affected by the pandemic and lockdown. More than half of people questioned said that their drinking has changed in the last six months, with 29% drinking more than before and 23% drinking less. Anxiety and depression were mentioned by many people as reasons for drinking more, while many others said they were drinking less in order to protect their health.