Consultation with stakeholders
The 2012 Act requires that, in preparing this report, Scottish Ministers must consult with such persons as appear to them to be representative of the interests of—
(i)holders of premises licences granted under the 2005 Act, and
(ii)producers of alcohol,
It also sets out that Scottish Ministers must consult with such persons as they consider appropriate having functions in relation to—
(ii)prevention of crime,
(iv)social work, and
(v)children and young people.
Scottish Ministers must also consult any other persons they considered appropriate.
In preparing this report, Ministers considered it appropriate to consult with people, and organisations who represent them, with lived experience of harmful or hazardous drinking. Ministers considered that the voices of those with lived experience provide a unique perspective on alcohol harm reduction which would complement and add to the insights generated by the other groups noted above. Ministers also considered it appropriate to seek views on young people's and the general public's impression of the MUP policy.
Calls for evidence
A call for evidence was issued in summer 2022 to representatives of the groups mentioned above. Over the course of summer 2022, nine roundtables and seven individual meetings were held and six written responses were received.
A further call for evidence was issued in July 2023. By this point, MUP had been in place for over five years and the PHS final evaluation report had been published. The Minister for Drugs and Alcohol Policy hosted six roundtables and officials held three individual meetings and a focus group with five young people aged 18-24.
It should be noted that whilst a number of different organisations who have relevant functions in relation to the relevant categories as identified in the Act were invited to take part in the call for evidence, not all responded. A list of the stakeholders who responded to the calls for evidence is available in Annex B.
The roundtables were structured to learn more about stakeholders' experiences and views on the operation and effect of MUP to inform the Scottish Government's consideration of the impact which MUP has had over the first five years since implementation and whether it should continue beyond the sunset date.
The questions used to facilitate the roundtables are available in Annex C.
The Scottish Government also commissioned Ipsos Mori to carry out public attitudes research through an omnibus survey, which asked a nationally representative sample of 1,029 adults across Scotland whether they were in favour of or against MUP, in order to gain an understanding of the general public's impression of MUP. Respondents were also asked the main and secondary reason for why they were in favour of or against MUP. A full report on this is available at https://www.gov.scot/isbn/9781835213285
Summary of Reponses
The key themes relevant to the preparation of this report are summarised below.
- Participants at the Health professionals roundtable felt that MUP had helped reduce the number of alcohol-related harms and deaths and that without MUP these could have been higher. They also discussed their belief that MUP helped mitigate against the harmful effect of the Covid-19 pandemic in relation to drinking habits, which they believed would have been even greater if MUP hadn't been in place.
- Those with lived experience of harmful or hazardous drinking felt that when MUP was first introduced it had an impact on the type of alcohol consumed by individuals drinking at those levels and on their ability to afford alcohol. However, it was also felt that this has lessened over time – partly due to the level remaining at 50ppu and partly due to the impact of the pandemic on drinking behaviour.
- Some participants in each of the roundtables shared examples of unintended consequences of MUP, for example, switching from alcohol to illicit drug use, driving to England to buy alcohol, a higher prevalence of crime or negative impact on the alcohol industry (excluding high strength white cider). However, it was also discussed that this was anecdotal evidence and had to be interpreted with care. One concern discussed at a number of the roundtables was that dependent drinkers, and potentially those drinking at harmful and hazardous levels, may prioritise alcohol over essentials such as food and heating. Although they did acknowledge that the cost-of-living crisis and other factors could also have an influence here.
- Young people participating in the focus group had some concerns that younger people could substitute drugs for alcohol and buy less nutritious food if alcohol prices increase. The majority of the focus group participants, however, said that they were not aware of their household budgets being impacted by MUP.
- The shift in young people's drinking habits was discussed in the crime prevention roundtable with general agreement that alcohol consumption among young people had declined – however, this was not thought to be fully attributable to MUP. Young people who participated in the focus group felt MUP might have an impact on underage drinking as a higher price of alcohol may discourage underage children from asking older young people to buy them alcohol. One organisation who work with children and young people highlighted in the 2022 roundtable that youth work is slightly more removed from alcohol harm prevention policy and they would find it difficult to attribute any changes in alcohol consumption to anything in particular.
- Most of the roundtables talked specifically about the impact of MUP on those who drink at harmful and hazardous levels, including people with alcohol dependence. Health professionals and social workers raised some examples of positive impact on the alcohol consumption of those drinking above the weekly guidelines. However, there was a prevalent view that MUP had not had much impact on the alcohol consumption of those with alcohol dependence. This led to discussion of what was needed to support those with alcohol dependence, with all stakeholders in agreement that increased investment in alcohol treatment services was needed. Those in the social work roundtable highlighted that MUP cannot work on its own and needs to work with other preventative strategies such as alcohol brief interventions and outreach programmes in order to fully support those drinking at harmful levels, and their complex needs.
- There was an overall impression within the alcohol industry that MUP was now "business as usual". However, participants were critical of the timeline for implementing MUP in 2018 and described the very short lead-in time as challenging.
- Retailers present at the roundtables discussed the impact of MUP on their business. It was reported that MUP has added a layer of complexity when working out the price of alcohol products and it can act as an administrative burden, particularly for smaller stores. Some retailers, which also operate in England, discussed the challenges of having to do things differently in different places. Smaller convenience stores were reported to have seen a slight increase in their alcohol sales as MUP made them more competitive with larger supermarkets. It was also felt that MUP had brought a better balance between on and off trade prices and stopped 'irresponsible' pricing practices.
- Among producers, there was general discussion about the risk of Scotland being too different to other countries and the more divergent the market is, the less attractive Scotland is to trade in. This was not seen to be an issue solely to do with MUP but also the proposed Deposit Return Scheme. Producers also discussed how MUP had created an artificial floor price which had distorted the market. This led to 'own label' product sales decreasing despite these products having lower ABV in comparison to different mainstream branded products.
- Producers of alcohol were unanimous in their view that MUP had not resulted in increased revenue for producers. They felt that any increase in revenue would be felt by retailers who had a huge amount of power in their ability to set price. However, retailers reported that they also did not see an increase in revenue from MUP.
- There was also discussion of changing consumer habits. Producers discussed that people's relationship with alcohol had not been impacted by MUP, but that they had merely switched products. It was felt that consumers switched from white cider and perry to other products including ready to drink beverages. However, it was also acknowledged that it is not clear that this is entirely due to MUP. Retailers similarly felt there had been a shift away from products such as high strength white cider and super strength lagers.
- Some producers questioned MUP's whole population approach because "most people drink within sensible amounts". They discussed the need of a person-centred approach by offering more support services to people drinking at hazardous levels and engaging in proactive intervention campaigns because much of the choice in drinking happens before people reach the store.
- When asked about the impact of removing MUP, participants in the health professionals, crime prevention, lived experience and social work roundtables felt that MUP should not be removed. Reasons for this included the likely return of increased consumption of low cost high strength products such as white cider, the continuing high level of alcohol-related deaths in Scotland, the negative message that it would send regarding the priority of reducing alcohol harms, and increased costs for the NHS. Those representing the alcohol industry felt there would be limited to no impact to businesses of removing MUP but large retailers noted that the removal of MUP may make Scotland easier to operate in for multi-national businesses as it could mean there is a same price point across the UK.
- The findings from the public attitudes survey suggested that, overall, people were slightly more likely to be in favour of MUP (43%) than against it (38%). Almost a fifth of respondents (18%) were neutral and a small number did not know (1%). The most common main reason for being in favour of MUP was to help tackle problems caused by alcohol in general (34% of respondents in favour of MUP), followed by to help tackle health problems from drinking (20% of respondents in favour of MUP). The most common main reason for opposing MUP was feeling it punishes everyone for what some drinkers do (29% of respondents who were against MUP), followed by feeling that if people want to drink they will whatever the price (22% of respondents against MUP).
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