So, the new year is finally upon us, and with that so is the introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP). In case you are unaware, MUP is where there will be a baseline price set at which a unit of alcohol can be sold.
Scotland and Wales have enacted MUP legislation recently, which has led to some questionable conclusions. This legislation is due to be implemented across Ireland from the 4th of January onwards. This means that a slab of cans for example will cost you roughly 40 euro where it would have previously cost you 15 euro. A 70cl of whiskey will cost an excess of 22 euro compared to the original cost of 15 euro. I would like to make clear that I am in no way a fan of the introduction of MUP and although some may suggest that this legislation is something that would have inevitably come into effect in Ireland, the way it has been handled lacks foresight, trust, and compassion for a variety of reasons.
Minimum unit pricing will undoubtedly affect those who are less fortunate. Low-income families, especially those who have alcohol issues will be hit the hardest. It is likely that people will go cold and hungry, as a result of MUP, since people will still purchase alcohol regardless of its price. This now means less money will be spent on food and bills because of the significant increase to the price of alcohol that otherwise would have been spent on those items. It gets worse, according to a study that took place in Scotland after they enacted a minimum unit price, it found that there was an increase in drug use due to the rise in alcohol prices. The number of alcohol sales did fall by 7.7%, though it feels like the decision is counterproductive if individuals will just switch from one drug to another. I feel that this is likely to happen in Ireland too.
I feel that what makes the introduction of MUP so bad, is how rushed it seems to feel, despite it being something that has been spoken about in the Dáil since 2015. The bill itself has been passed since 2018. I say rushed because one would at least expect the increase in prices to at least go towards something meaningful in the long run, although that is not the case. MUP is not a tax, therefore any extra money that will now be spent on alcohol will go straight to the retailers. Surely, one would think that this money would have been better off being funnelled back into the public service to benefit those living in Ireland. This money could have been much better off going towards service user and general rehabilitation services, since there seems to be funding issues in these areas for some time now.
I do think that while minimum unit pricing coming into effect is a terrible decision, I cannot help but think that it feels like something bigger is at stake here. Seeing the hardships people have endured over the last two years throughout the pandemic where we had to live under such stringent measures has been tough. We followed guidelines to protect ourselves and those who would be at a greater risk to Coronavirus. Though in recent times, it feels as if public health policy has been shifted from caring for one another and alleviating pressure from the health service towards regulations that allow for the economy to survive. We are now at a stage where there is a shared feeling that people have been babied into living a certain way. This to me shows a clear lack of trust between the government and its people and minimum unit pricing feels like another variation of that.
Words: Nathan Clare