The Scottish Government has published a new consultation regarding the future of minimum unit pricing (MUP). The consultation asks whether MUP should continue as a measure to reduce alcohol harm, and if so, at what level. The document states that:
…the Scottish Government is satisfied that there is a strong case to continue with MUP…The Scottish Government also proposes the level of minimum unit price is revised to 65ppu to provide a proportionate response to tackling alcohol harms. It strikes a reasonable balance between public health benefits against the effects of any intervention in the alcoholic drinks market and subsequent impact on consumers.
You can respond to the consultation using the online form here.
The Scottish Government’s report on MUP published alongside the consultation recognises that the measure has reduced alcohol-related deaths and hospitalisations in the country, particularly in the most deprived areas.
In her consultation Foreword, Elena Whitham MSP, Minister for Drugs and Alcohol Policy, said:
I do recognise that there is a balance to be struck, to ensure that we take steps to improve and support good population health whilst trying to minimise the potential impacts that has both on consumers and industry. This consultation is an opportunity for the Scottish Government to understand the views of respondents on the proposals set out as part of reaching a final decision on MUP.
IAS’s chief executive, Dr Katherine Severi, welcomed the news and called on the UK government to follow Scotland’s lead:
We know that drinking patterns changed during the pandemic, with those drinking at harmful levels consuming more. With deaths from alcohol at an all-time high, effective policies to reduce harm are therefore needed more than ever.
The more evidence that comes out from Scotland showing how minimum unit pricing saves lives and improves health equality, the more it highlights the UK government’s failure to act. Over the past decade, health inequalities have spiraled. To have a simple and evidence-based policy that directly reduces this inequality is a gift; a gift that continues to be disregarded. The UK government must follow Scotland’s lead to avoid England becoming the sick nation of the UK.
The chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, also demanded action from the Westminster:
…there is a message for the politicians in Westminster too; over 250 lives every year are being saved in Scotland because of MUP, while the number of avoidable deaths in England continue to rise. The UK government can no longer, in good conscience, sit on the evidence. It must act on its promise to review MUP in England now.
Dr Alastair MacGilchrist, the chair of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), said this was a significant moment in the journey to reduce alcohol harms in Scotland, and that all MSPs must get behind it:
While MUP must be part of a range of policies to reduce alcohol harms in Scotland, including restricting alcohol marketing and prioritising access to treatment, we must insure that its ability to save lives is not eroded by inflation.
The University of Sheffield published a report coinciding with the release of the consultation, which found that the current rate of 50p has been eroded by inflation:
This means that the real-terms value of the MUP threshold fell from 50p/unit in May 2018 to 41p/unit in July 2023.
The report estimates the impact of different rate of MUP on alcohol consumption, deaths and hospitalisations, ‘all else being equal (i.e. assuming no other factors have affected alcohol consumption or harm and that the MUP level has been raised in line with inflation since its introduction)’, finding that:
- Removing the MUP entirely would increase alcohol consumption by an estimated 5.4% and increase the number of harmful drinkers by 26,84.
- Raising the MUP level by 10p would reduce alcohol consumption by an estimated 6.7%, reducing the number of people drinking at harmful levels by 26,644.
- Raising the MUP level by 10p would also lead to an estimated 2,483 fewer deaths, 30,484 fewer hospital admissions and 78,150 fewer years of life lost to premature death over 20 years.
- Removing the MUP would lead to an estimated 1,669 additional deaths, 22,179 hospital admissions and 58,348 additional years of life lost over 20 years.
- Raising the MUP level by 10p would reduce NHS hospital costs by an estimated £36.7million over 20 years, while removing it would increase hospital costs by £26.4million.
However, as things have not been equal, with the COVID-19 pandemic changing drinking patterns, the report explored a number of potential scenarios based on changing drinking patterns.
The report has two main conclusions:
First, the erosion of the real-terms value of the MUP by high levels of inflation is likely to increase alcohol related harm. Adjusting the level of the MUP to account for inflation is therefore important to maintain its public health impacts.
Second, the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are also likely to lead to increases in alcohol-related harm that will cancel out some of the beneficial impacts of MUP.