UKIP Debate: Minimum Pricing of Alcohol

May 10, 2018 | Assembly Business | 0 comments

Plenary 9th May 2018

18:25
Watch on Senedd TV

Motion NDM6718 Neil Hamilton

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:

1. Notes the problems caused by the harmful consumption of alcohol and the damaging impact that substance misuse has on families and communities.

2. Believes that:

a) the Welsh Government proposal for minimum unit pricing of alcohol will have a detrimental financial impact on the poorest people in society; and

b) the suggested value of around 50 pence per alcoholic unit will fail to make any substantial change to the quantity of alcohol consumed by those who habitually drink alcohol in large quantities.

3. Calls on the Welsh Government to abandon the Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill and do more to tackle alcohol misuse without resorting to minimum unit pricing.

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

I think it’s important to state that we in UKIP do acknowledge that there are individuals who do abuse alcohol, and alcohol abuse can have a devastating effect both on individuals and on their families. It is not that we aren’t concerned by this issue. We are. We are simply questioning whether minimum unit pricing or MUP will work as a means of effectively combatting alcohol abuse. Our considered conclusion is that is won’t.

Now, we know that the Welsh Government doesn’t simply do things without research. Yes, they have their research. They have sourced research from the University of Sheffield, for instance, which estimates that a minimum unit price of 50p a unit would save the Welsh economy £882 million over a 20-year period. That works out at about £40 million a year, which sounds like an appreciable saving. This is due to reductions in the fields of crime, illness and work-place absence. The problem is that the methodology behind this report has been criticised by other academics and think tanks.

For instance, the Centre for Economics and Business Research has come up with an alternative appraisal of the MUP plan, which includes a critique of Sheffield University’s work, particularly focusing on alcohol demand elasticities. That is, the willingness of problem drinkers to pay more money to get their fix of alcohol. The CEBR felt that the Sheffield study didn’t properly distinguish between different types of drinker and different types of drinking behaviours. In other words, it didn’t take enough account of the readiness of problem drinkers to pay more money to get their fix, or that problem drinkers tend to exhibit behaviours that are different to average behaviour.

We have to accept that we are dealing here with people who have an addiction, people who have an illness, so they will not always act in rational ways. Addicts will often tend to carry on getting hold of the substance that they are addicted to, even if the price goes up

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM

Party: Plaid Cymru

Will you take an intervention?

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Yes

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM

Party: Plaid Cymru

Do you understand that this piece of legislation isn’t really aimed at getting alcoholics to stop drinking? Alcoholics will, you’re quite right, seek alcohol out in any way they can. Efforts need to be made — more efforts — from Government to help alcoholics come off alcohol, but we are talking here about hazardous drinkers, who can be persuaded through price incentives to perhaps behave in a different way.

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Yes, I appreciate that you’re making a distinction between alcoholics and hazardous drinkers, and such a distinction does exist, but all the same we don’t believe that this legislation will even effectively tackle the problem of hazardous drinkers.

To go back to what I was saying, an alcoholic may simply spend more of his or her money on alcohol after MUP and spend less on basic essentials, such as heating, food, utility bills and rent. Raising the price of alcohol could therefore be the tipping point that ends up tipping an alcoholic over into homelessness. In the case of an alcoholic who also has a family, it could plausibly lead to the entire family being evicted.

Richard Edwards, chief executive of the Cardiff based homeless charity the Huggard center is one of those who has major concerns over the MUP plan. I quote:

‘Raising pricing alone, for legal drugs such as alcohol, may simply change one addiction for another and condemn people to a more entrenched and desperate life on the streets’.

End quote. There is the very real threat that hardened alcoholics will turn away from alcohol and get involved with much worse substances such as spice, which is already prevalent on the streets of Wales’s major towns and cities. There is also the prospect that alcoholics could turn to crime to raise funds for their habits. Crime levels could actually go up, rather than down as the Welsh Government’s evidence has asserted.

There has been an argument that pubs will actually benefit from the introduction of MUP. Well, let’s have a look at that. Pubs have, it’s true, complained for some years that they are unfairly treated by the tax system compared to supermarkets, which are able to undercut them on alcohol products. This is due to different rates of VAT being charged. Unfortunately, this tax disparity won’t be addressed by the introduction of MUP. CAMRA, which has previously supported MUP, have since 2013 opposed it and recently their head of communications said:

‘CAMRA does not support minimum unit pricing because we believe it penalises moderate and responsible drinkers while doing little to support those who have issues with alcohol abuse.’

Another who opposes the scheme is Tim Martin the boss of Weatherspoon’s, who has called MUP a red herring and says that what is really needed is a cut in VAT on beer sold in pubs. So, if the Welsh Government really wanted to improve the position of pubs, which wasn’t actually their objective in any case with this Bill, they should instead lobby the UK Government for a reduction on VAT on alcohol sold in pubs.

Another body that has performed a u-turn of sorts is the UK Government. Having previously been in favour of introducing MUP, the Westminster Government has now decided that they will carefully monitor what happens in Scotland first, before they implement any similar scheme in England. But the Welsh Government has decided to do it differently and plough on with its own plans regardless. I think that they now need to take a step back and think again about this legislation. Diolch yn fawr iawn.