Wales' minimum alcohol price 'won't tackle middle class drinkers'

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Alan Spencer said that minimum alcohol pricing would not have helped him stop drinking

The new minimum price for alcohol is not "sufficient" to tackle middle-class drinkers, according to an addiction charity.

Kaleidoscope's boss said alcohol consumption was "ridiculously high" in some of Wales' more affluent areas.

Martin Blakebrough said "there doesn't really seem to be much in the way of prevention going on".

The Welsh Government said minimum unit pricing, starting on 2 March, was "just one element" of its approach.

'If I didn't have a drink then I would be shaking'

Alan Spencer, 62, found his drinking got worse after retiring five years ago.

The father-of-three from Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, who worked in the police and at the Ministry of Defence, said he tried to keep his drinking a secret from his wife Jan, hiding bottles of alcohol around the house - but soon could not conceal it.

"I used to get up at about 4am," Mr Spencer said.

"And if I didn't have a drink then I would be shaking.

"The doctors said I had to have a drink, otherwise I ran the risk of having a seizure from not having one, so it was a catch-22."

Mr Spencer said that he "began to cut myself off from the grandchildren because I realised that my children didn't trust me with them".

"I'm an alcoholic - you wouldn't want your children to be looked after by somebody, who, nine times out of 10 would be drunk.

"I didn't want people to see the person that I'd become."

When Mr Spencer's drinking was at its worst, he attempted to take his life.

"The pressure you're putting on your family and the outcome that it's having on them," he said. "It's a nightmare."

After visiting a rehabilitation centre in Liverpool, he started his recovery.

Mr Spencer, who has now been sober for a year, said alcohol addiction could affect anyone and the minimum alcohol pricing would not have helped him.

"I still would have carried on drinking, because financially I would've been able to," he explained.

People living in more affluent areas are more likely to drink above the recommended amount than those in the most deprived areas, according to the most recent figures from Public Health Wales.

Retailers in Wales will have to charge at least 50p a unit, meaning a typical bottle of wine would not cost less than £4.69.

The Welsh Government has said the harm caused by alcohol was a "major public health issue" leading to more than 500 deaths a year.

But Mr Blakebrough, chief executive of the charity, said the minimum alcohol pricing law "disproportionately affects low-income drinkers".

He added that, for those drinkers, the concern is that they will continue drinking but cut back on spending money on food or their families due to the increased cost.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
A charge of 50p per unit will be introduced next month

Concerns have previously been raised about the possibility of harmful drinkers turning to drugs if they can no longer afford alcohol, as well as the risks of brewing alcohol at home or turning to crime to obtain it.

He said the average person "won't notice it particularly" when the law comes into effect on 2 March.

A report found alcohol sales in Scotland dropped after a similar system started there in May 2018.

It is hoped the limit will eventually help prevent 66 alcohol-related deaths a year in Wales.

Neither England nor Northern Ireland currently have plans to set a limit.

The Welsh Government said: "Minimum unit pricing (MUP) is just one element of the Welsh Government's approach to tackling alcohol and substance misuse in Wales but it's an important step towards reducing the harm caused by alcohol."

It added that it "specifically targets harmful and hazardous drinkers but will also help people think about their relationship with alcohol".

"Hazardous and harmful drinkers across all income groups consume some low-cost, high alcohol content products.

"However, people in the lowest socioeconomic groups who are harmful drinkers have the highest risk of alcohol-related harm.

"MUP can reduce levels of hazardous and harmful drinking in these groups.

"Research shows that people switching to other harmful substances is unlikely, and evidence from Scotland showed this has not happened."

See more on this story on Wales Live at 22.30 GMT on BBC One Wales and on the BBC iPlayer

If you or someone you know are feeling emotionally distressed, the BBC's Action Line has a list of organisations offering advice and support.

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