Scotland became the first country in the world to introduce MUP – which sets the lowest price a unit of alcohol can be sold for - back in 2018. A 'sunset clause' in this legislation means the policy must be re-considered by Parliament if it is to continue.
However, the Scottish government wants to use this opportunity to ramp up MUP: partly to counteract the effects of inflation but also to push past this with the aim of further reducing deaths and hospital admissions.
As a result, the minimum price of a bottle of Scotch whisky can be expected to rise by 30%.
The aim of MUP is to reduce the harm caused by alcohol (prior to the introduction of MUP in 2018, Scottish government figures noted 22 alcohol-specific deaths and 697 hospital admissions per week): with the policy designed to mostly impact low cost, high strength alcohol and reduce alcohol consumption in the heaviest drinkers.
In general, the policy pushes up the cost of cheap alcohol; while premium products are less affected.
Scotland’s Deputy First Minister Shona Robison said: “Research commended by internationally-renowned public health experts estimated that our world-leading Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) policy has saved hundreds of lives, likely averted hundreds of alcohol-attributable hospital admissions and contributed to reducing health inequalities.
“We believe the proposals, which are supported by Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer, strike a reasonable balance between public health benefits and any effects on the alcoholic drinks market and impact on consumers. Evidence suggests there has not been a significant impact on business and industry as a whole.”
In May, a study carried out by researchers from Public Health Scotland and the University of Glasgow suggested a 13% reduction in deaths from alcohol consumption in the two years and eight months following the implementation of the policy.
While Public Health Scotland believes the 50p MUP has been ‘an effective price’, its power has been reduced by the effects of inflation. An increase to 60p per unit is estimated to come closest to maintaining the current benefits of the policy, uprating the MUP in line with inflation.
However, the government’s modelling suggests a 65p MUP could avert an additional 60 deaths and 774 fewer hospital admissions compared to 60p per unit.
Min price with MUP 65p
Mixed reaction to MUP
A consultation into the MUP increases, published today, shows mixed attitudes towards the policy: largely influenced by the type of respondent.
Among all respondents, 39% supported MUP continuing and 59% were opposed. However, 27% of individuals supported MUP, compared to 88% of organisations.
Among individuals, most concerns were over the increased cost during a cost-of-living crisis and an imposition that represented a 'nanny state' policy.
Meanwhile, all public sector health organisations, academic institutions and local government bodies who responded to the consultation agreed MUP should continue. However, 83% of alcohol industry representative bodies and 60% of producers were opposed.
The Scottish Grocer’s Federation, for example, argued that the data from MUP over the last five years has been ‘substantially inconclusive’ as multiple factors such as the pandemic and increased cost in hospitality and on-licensed consumption has impacted data.
The plans will now go before the Scottish Parliament for approval later this month; and are due to come into effect on September 30, 2024.