A public consultation ran from 20 September to 22 November 2023 to gather views on the Scottish Government’s proposals to continue Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) for alcohol beyond April 2024 and to increase the minimum unit price to 65 pence. In total, 545 consultation responses were received from 432 individuals and 113 organisations. Organisational responses, which were typically supportive of the proposals, often left lengthy responses covering multiple themes.
Two fifths of all respondents (39%) supported MUP continuing, three fifths (59%) were opposed, and 2% did not answer. There were, however, significant differences between individuals and organisations. Just over one quarter (27%) of individuals supported MUP continuing, compared to nine in ten (88%) organisations. All public health organisations who responded to the consultation agreed MUP should continue; however, 83% of alcohol industry representative bodies and 60% of alcohol producers were opposed.
One third of respondents (32%) agreed with the proposed minimum unit price of 65 pence. Two thirds (66%) disagreed, and 2% did not answer. Individuals and organisations held almost exactly opposing views. While 79% of individuals disagreed and 19% agreed, among organisations 79% agreed and 17% disagreed.
Most respondents held firm views either for or against MUP. One third (32%) supported a continuation and a price increase, while three fifths (59%) opposed both proposals. However, 7% were in favour of MUP continuing, but opposed to the specified price.
The most prevalent theme in open comments was that the proposal would increase the financial burden on people, particularly those on low incomes. It was mostly unclear whether respondents were referring to continuing MUP, the proposed price increase, or both. The second most common theme was that increasing the minimum unit price would not reduce consumption among people with alcohol dependence.
Many respondents argued that there was insufficient evidence to justify the proposals or that the existing evidence is selective, biased, misleading or flawed. In addition, many respondents, primarily individuals, expressed a more direct view that MUP had not worked or had had minimal impact. It was variously described as a failure, ineffective, flawed, unfair and having had no effect on reducing alcohol-related health issues or deaths.
Overlapping with the theme of an increased financial burden, many respondents argued that the proposal to increase the minimum unit price was unfair to moderate or social drinkers. Other negative impacts raised by many included a view that continuing MUP or increasing the minimum unit price would result in further unintended harm if hazardous and harmful drinkers could no longer afford more expensive alcohol, and negative impacts on businesses such as hospitality and retail, including job losses. Several respondents suggested the proposals represented overreach by the Scottish Government into people’s personal lives, or noted concerns that the money raised from MUP went to retailers, which they felt was inappropriate.
Many respondents felt the available evidence showed that MUP has been effective. This was the most prevalent supportive theme overall, followed by explicit comments that MUP should continue. Around three quarters of respondents in both themes were organisations. Several others made more general comments, expressing their view that the policy was worthwhile, successful, and a good idea and should continue.
Three themes were commonly raised by those who supported an increase in the minimum unit price. Many felt the proposed price of 65 pence per unit (ppu) was correct, or stated that it should be ‘at least’ 65ppu. Over two thirds of respondents who expressed this view were organisations, including coordinated responses from public health organisations and members of the European Alcohol Policy Alliance. This was the third most prevalent theme in responses from organisations. Secondly, a recommendation that the minimum unit price should rise over time was made by many respondents. Thirdly, some respondents explicitly agreed in their comments that the minimum unit price should increase.
Many respondents, particularly public health and third sector organisations, highlighted that policies aiming to reduce alcohol consumption, including MUP, can lead to positive improvements in health and wellbeing. These comments detailed how reducing alcohol consumption can improve public health, address health inequalities, help to reduce the burden on public services, improve other non-health-related, aspects of quality of life, and support early intervention and prevent future hazardous and harmful drinking.
In addition to the positive impacts on public health, other respondents expressed support for MUP on the basis of a lack of negative impacts or unintended consequences since it was implemented, or the positive economic impact of the policy. Some viewed MUP as a progressive model of best practice which had demonstrated Scotland’s global leadership.
The role of MUP as part of a wider strategy was explored in many comments covering three themes. A call for more support for hazardous and harmful drinkers was made by many; this was the fifth most prevalent theme overall, spanning both individuals and organisations, and those in support of and opposed to continuing MUP. Many respondents advocated for a wide suite of measures to address Scotland’s relationship with alcohol. Around three quarters of those who expressed this view supported the continuation of MUP, with many seeing it as an integral part of Scotland’s existing alcohol harm reduction strategy. Some respondents advocated for greater efforts to address the underlying reasons why people drink alcohol at hazardous and harmful levels.
Some respondents, most of whom favoured MUP continuing, called for more research and evidence into the effectiveness and impact of MUP, or for more engagement and consultation with the people and sectors most affected by the policy.
Many individuals and stakeholders with detailed knowledge took part in the consultation. They shared mixed views on the impact of MUP since it was introduced, and on whether it should continue at a higher minimum unit price, with higher support for the proposals evident among organisations than among individuals.
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