As part of our committee inquiry into the minimum price for alcohol, we asked young people and members of the homeless community for their views. Among the many insights offered was the possibility that there could be unintended consequences of a minimum price for alcohol.
About the Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill
In October 2017, the Assembly’s Health, Social Care and Sport Committee was asked to consider the details of the Welsh Government’s Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill. The Bill proposes to set a minimum price per unit for alcohol in Wales and to make it an offence for alcohol to be sold or supplied below that price.
The Bill aims to protect the health of harmful and hazardous drinkers by increasing the price of cheap, strong alcohol such as white ciders. As part of its work, the Committee wanted to find out whether these changes would affect young people and also whether there could be any unintended consequences arising from the Bill for people who are dependent on alcohol, in particular people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
What did young people and the homeless community tell us?
Focus groups were conducted with youth groups, colleges, universities and organisations supporting the homeless community in Wales. Through these sessions, the Committee heard that higher alcohol prices may have a negative impact on dependent drinkers, and could push some drinkers towards other, more harmful substances.
“You can buy a bottle of vodka for £15 but you can get a pill for £7 – £10, and its effect will last all night”
College student, Conwy
This differed from information the Committee had received earlier in the inquiry, and as a result of the views and opinions shared by young people and the homeless community, the Committee asked for more information about the prices of certain drugs in Wales specifically. They also went to meet users of the alcohol recovery centre, Huggard, in Cardiff, where they were told that higher prices for alcohol would not necessarily deter people, and that they would find alternatives, including turning to drugs such as Spice.
The young people the Committee heard from also felt that, rather than deterring them from buying certain types of alcohol, some would simply make sacrifices elsewhere in their budget or find different ways of accessing the alcohol they usually bought.
“Increasing the price of alcohol won’t change the drinking culture but may lead to more anti-social behaviour like stealing”
College student, Swansea
Some young people also told us that they considered the proposals too extreme and used Australia as an example of somewhere that alcohol couldn’t be served after 10pm, while other suggestions included restricting the amount of alcohol that can be purchased in a day would be more effective than changing the price.
“The government hasn’t really tried any of the alternative ways of tackling the issue.”
University student, Cardiff
What did the Committee recommend?
After speaking to people from the health sector, young people, services supporting dependent drinkers and people who are homeless, amongst other professionals, the Committee agreed that the Bill will help to improve and protect the health of the population in Wales. However, they have raised concerns that the Bill in its current form could have a negative impact on dependent drinkers, and could push some drinkers towards other, more harmful substances. Because of this, the Committee’s report says that they would like to see a minimum price for alcohol as part of a wider package of measures and support services to reduce alcohol dependency and raise awareness of responsible drinking.
The Bill will be debated today in a meeting of the full Assembly before a vote to decide whether it can proceed to the next stage of the Assembly’s law-making process. You can watch the debate on Senedd TV.