Minimum unit pricing: What does the public think?

By Rachel Arthur contact

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: iStock/monticello
Pic: iStock/monticello

Related tags: Minimum unit pricing, Alcoholic beverage

A survey of British social attitudes suggests that 52% of the public supports minimum unit pricing (MUP), while attitudes vary between people who drink lightly and heavily.

People who drink the most are less likely to support the idea (32% are in favor), compared to those classed as ‘lower-risk drinkers’ (53% in favor) and those who are non-drinkers (61% in favor).

However, 52% believe that MUP would be unfair on sensible drinkers.

The figures come from the British Social Attitudes survey, which is run every year to track changes in people’s social, political and moral attitudes.

Who is affected by minimum unit pricing?

MUP is a policy that would set a minimum price for drinks, on the basis of their alcohol content.

Supporters say this would limit the amount drunk by young people and the heaviest drinkers, without affecting moderate drinkers.

However, those against the idea say that moderate drinkers would be penalised, and that it would contravene free-market principles.

“The public is not confident that MUP would be effective in reducing heavy drinking,” ​says the report. “Just over one-third (36%) think that MUP would reduce heavy drinking.

“‘Increasing-risk drinkers’ are the least likely to think that MUP will reduce heavy drinking; 16% think this, compared with 24% of ‘lower-risk drinkers’ and 33% of non-drinkers.”

However, the public perception that MUP would be effective in reducing the amount that young people drink is stronger (46% believe MUP would be effective here).

Rocky road to MUP

Scotland:​ The Government passed a policy on minimum unit pricing in 2012, but this has not been implemented as it is currently subject to a legal challenge.

Wales:​ The Welsh Government wants to introduce MUP, but this has been blocked this month by central UK government (which says alcohol law falls under its powers). 

Does price affect consumption?

Nearly two-thirds of drinkers (65%) say that the price of alcohol does not affect the amount of alcohol they purchase.

The Alcohol Information Partnership (a body recently founded by eight alcoholic beverage producers including Diageo, Bacardi, and Brown-Forman) has responded to this finding, saying that it “demonstrates that the idea of increasing the price of alcohol as a means to reduce harmful drinking is seen as unfair on sensible drinkers and is unlikely to be effective.”

Dave Roberts, director general of the Alcohol Information Partnership, said “The serious issue of problem and harmful drinking is best tackled by education, awareness and partnership working between the public authorities, the drinks industry, retailers and licensees.”

However, almost a quarter (24%) of drinkers believe the introduction of MUP would be very or fairly likely to result in them drinking less alcohol. This figure does not vary much between those who drink different amounts of alcohol.

Drink driving laws

In England and Wales the legal limit is 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100 milliliters of breath. In Scotland this is 22 micrograms of alcohol per 100 milliliters of breath.

More than three-quarters (77%) of respondents believed that the amount of alcohol that drivers are allowed to drink should be reduced.

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