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Minimum Unit Pricing

The alcohol problem in Scotland is so significant that ground breaking measures are required.

Given the link between consumption and harm and evidence that affordability is one of the drivers of increased consumption, addressing price is an important element of any long-term strategy.

Alcohol is now 60 per cent more affordable in the UK than it was in 1980. It is possible in Scotland today to exceed the new lower risk guidelines for alcohol (14 units per week) for less than £2.50. This is an unacceptable position and we have a responsibility to address this problem.

There is strong international evidence that tackling price - as part of a package of measures, including education and diversion - can help reduce alcohol consumption and related harm.

The Scottish Parliament passed legislation in 2012, the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012, which allows the Scottish Ministers to introduce a system of Minimum Unit Pricing for alcohol.  The legislation was then challenged in court by some parts of the alcohol industry and that has delayed the implementation of this important policy.  On 15 November 2017, the UK Supreme Court confirmed that the legislation which allows Minimum Unit Pricing to be introduced is lawful.  The judgment can be found on the following link https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2017-0025-judgment.pdf .

The Scottish Government plans to introduce Minimum Unit Pricing for alcohol on 1 May 2018.  Before they introduce the Minimum Unit Price, the Scottish Ministers are having a public consultation to gather views from people, businesses, public bodies and interested parties about the Scottish Government’s preferred price of 50 pence per unit of alcohol.  The consultation will run from 1 December 2017 to 26 January 2018.  A link to the consultation is https://consult.gov.scot/alcohol-policy/minimum-unit-pricing .  

What is Minimum Unit Pricing?

Research into differing price policy options concluded that a minimum unit price is the most effective of a range of policy options. It has been recommended as a way of increasing the price of drinks such as own-brand spirits and white cider, which have high alcohol content but are usually very cheap.

Minimum unit pricing would simply set a floor price for a unit of alcohol, meaning it can't be sold for lower than that. The more alcohol a drink contains, the stronger it is and therefore the more expensive it will be.

Minimum unit pricing is not a tax; it is a targeted way of making sure alcohol is sold at a sensible price.

The effects of Minimum Unit Pricing

Minimum unit pricing will impact most on harmful drinkers - those who regularly drink more than the lower risk drinking guidelines. Those who drink within the lower risk guidelines will only be marginally affected simply because they only consume a small amount of alcohol and also because they do not tend to buy as much of the cheaper alcohol that would be most affected by a minimum unit price.

The small increase in the cost of alcohol to moderate drinkers has to be seen in the context of the total costs of alcohol misuse - estimates suggest around £900 per year for every adult in Scotland.

Almost all drinks bought in the pub are already sold well above any likely minimum price, so they wouldn't be affected. The minimum unit price of 50p per unit will mostly affect cheap white ciders and value spirits with high alcohol content which tend to be favoured by harmful drinkers.

The most recent research by the University of Sheffield (April 2016) estimated that the proposed minimum price of 50p per unit would result in the following benefits:

  • Alcohol related deaths would fall by about 120 per year by year twenty of the policy(full effect)
  • A fall in hospital admission of 2,000 per year by year twenty of the policy (full effect)

The modelling shows that minimum unit pricing is targeted with the greatest benefit falling on harmful drinkers, and particularily those living in poverty.

Some people may not feel that they are part of Scotland's alcohol problem, but through the introduction of minimum unit pricing, everyone will feel the economic and social benefits of the solution through healthier, happier, safer families and communities.

This landmark policy is supported by many organisations and is a significant step forward in the Scottish Government’s efforts to tackle Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol.