Minimum Unit Pricing for Alcohol

1. Questions to the First Minister – in the Senedd at 1:30 pm on 12 September 2023.

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Photo of Russell George Russell George Conservative 1:30, 12 September 2023

Diolch, Llywydd, and welcome back, all. 

Photo of Russell George Russell George Conservative 12 September 2023

(Translated)

1. Will the Welsh Government provide an update on the benefits of minimum unit pricing for alcohol? OQ59895

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 1:30, 12 September 2023

Llywydd, last year, the British Liver Trust, drawing on authoritative advice from the World Health Organization, concluded that minimum unit pricing is amongst the most effective measures that can be taken to reduce alcohol-induced harm. As the policy is embedded in Wales, we should expect to see increased benefits from its adoption.

Photo of Russell George Russell George Conservative

Thank you, First Minister. I looked at some of the reports from Scotland—there were 40 case studies carried out in Scotland—and I also looked at the Welsh Government's commissioned reports as well, and I took from that a different analysis from you. As much as I would like minimum unit pricing to work and be successful, that's not what I took from the evidence. I noticed there were some reports published, commissioned by the Welsh Government, and there's a table set out in a report that talked of people who are classified as increasing or higher risk drinkers, rising from 33 per cent in 2018 to 40 per cent in 2020, and to 45 per cent in 2022. So, clearly that data, and the table that was sitting behind that, were showing that the direction is going in the opposite direction to what you or I would have wanted, also implying that people are drinking more frequently, and twice as many people are binge drinking before minimum pricing was introduced. 

So, my concern is, and I'm sure it is yours also, that if people are spending more money on alcohol, they will have less money to spend on essentials such as food. So, I'd be grateful for your analysis of some of the work commissioned by the Welsh Government, and whether you feel it's appropriate to bring forward the Welsh Government's final evaluation report, because, clearly, if MUP is not having the desired health outcomes but is actually having a detrimental outcome for people's health, then there needs to be a rethink of this particular policy.

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 1:32, 12 September 2023

Well, Llywydd, I'm glad to hear Russell George say that he hopes the policy will succeed, because I think the evidence of the World Health Organization is that the policy does have its impact on those drinkers who are at the most hazardous end of alcohol addiction—people for whom high-strength, low-cost alcohol poses the greatest risk. I heard the Member refer to the Scottish experience. The Scottish evaluation—of course, Scotland ahead of us in terms of time—the final evaluation there, was published on 27 June. It showed a reduction in deaths wholly attributable to alcohol consumption of 13.4 per cent during the implementation period, and a reduction in hospital admissions wholly attributed to alcohol consumption of 4.1 per cent. Now, if we could mirror those achievements in Wales, then the policy would have been a very significant success.

The Member referred to the interim evaluations here in Wales. They are not as definitive in demonstrating the advantages of the policy, but, as I know the Member will recognise, they covered a very unusual period indeed. They covered that period of COVID restrictions, of lockdowns, when we know there were wider impacts on people's drinking behaviours. We will award four different contracts to complete the final evaluation of the Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Act 2018, and those reports will be available to Members in time for this Senedd to take a view on the sunset clause that is in the legislation, and to do that ahead of the next Senedd elections. 

I hope very much that the successes that have been seen elsewhere from this policy—a policy that, as I said in my answer, was very specifically endorsed by the World Health Organization as one of the most effective measures that policy makers can take—will turn out to have the same impact here in Wales.