Minimum alcohol price rise approved in Scotland

Christine Humphreys
by Christine Humphreys
Published: April 18, 2024
Placing wine in shopping basket
MINIMUM unit pricing on alcohol is to continue in Scotland where deaths directly from drink have risen despite the pioneering control policy.
Scotland became the first in the world to adopt nation-wide minimum unit pricing (MUP) applying to all alcohol sales when the legislation was introduced as a trial in 2018.
Plans to make MUP permanent were announced earlier this year after reports evaluating the impact were published. The Scottish Parliament has now voted to keep the policy and increase the MUP.

Price Increase and Policy Impact

Prices will rise from 50p to 65p per unit of alcohol and will come into effect from September this year.
A study carried out on behalf of Public Health Scotland since the law was passed found that MUP reduced deaths and hospital admissions directly caused by alcohol ‘compared to what would have happened in the absence of MUP’.
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Deputy First Minister Shona Robison
Announcing the continuation of the policy and the price increase, Shona Robison, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister acknowledged that alcohol is killing more Scots but argues that, without MUP, the toll would be higher.
Ms 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.
“Despite this progress, deaths caused specifically by alcohol rose last year – and my sympathy goes out to all those who have lost a loved one.”
In addition to MUP the Scottish Parliament would continue to invest in treatment and a wide range of other measures, including funding for Alcohol and Drug Partnerships which, she said, had risen to £112 million in 2023-24.

Calls for UK-wide expansion

The 15p price hike has been welcomed by the Association of Directors of Public Health in England (ADPH) which wants the scheme extended throughout the UK.
They point out that the last national strategy to tackle alcohol harm in England was published in 2012 by the Coalition Government setting out 30 commitments and actions to reduce alcohol harm.
These included reducing the availability of cheap alcohol through duty rises and minimum unit pricing.
It was shelved following pressure from politicians opposed to the idea and lobbying by the alcohol industry against MUP.
Faced with similar pressures, the Scottish government ploughed ahead with the policy and spent six years fighting legal challenges from the drinks industry before implementing the trial in 2018.
Since then, Wales has followed the Scottish example but there are no plans to introduce the control in England.

The Impact of MUP

Alice Wiseman, vice-president of the ADPH, called for ‘long overdue’ action.
She said: “Minimum unit pricing barely affects prices in pubs and clubs but it does target the cheapest, strongest products in shops which is where the greatest harm lies.
“We have seen a huge rise in home drinking over recent years, with people being able to buy cheap, strong alcohol from off-licenses and supermarkets.
“This is causing untold harm to individuals and their families and puts enormous pressure on our already stretched health and social care services.
“Since its introduction, MUP has had an enormous positive impact in Scotland with a significant drop in the number of alcohol related deaths and hospital admissions.
“The evidence from Scotland is clear – MUP works. The time is long overdue for a clear national approach to addressing all harmful and unhealthy products so that we can put an end to the undue amount of influence industries – who necessarily need to increase sales of harmful products to make profit – have over our health.”

Call for Proactive Public Health Policies

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Sue Taylor, Balance
Health campaigners in England have praised Scotland’s stance.
Sue Taylor, of the alcohol harm reduction organisation Balance in the north east, where England’s drinking death rate is highest, urged Westminster to ‘protect the most vulnerable’.
She said: “At a time when alcohol deaths in England, and especially here in the North East, are at an all-time high, we need similarly proactive and enlightened public health policies to reduce alcohol harm and protect the most vulnerable in our communities.
“Life-expectancy is reducing in some areas – particularly more deprived communities, including those in the North East. We urgently need policies which address the key drivers of non-communicable diseases, like cancer and cardio-vascular disease.
MUP has been shown to be such a policy and, whilst it should be part of a wider package of measures to reduce alcohol consumption and harm, its introduction would be hugely welcome in England and of particular benefit to this region.”
Christine Humphreys

About The Author

Christine Humphreys
Chris Humphreys is the co-founder of The Alcohol-Free Shop and She was a journalist for more years than she cares to remember. Ex-wife of an alcoholic, enthusiastic amateur musician and a passionate dog lover.