THE UK government’s Budget last week illustrated the very different approach towards alcohol policy north and south of the Border.
George Osborne announced that the alcohol duty escalator, which has resulted in above-inflation rises on alcohol duty for the last few years, is being scrapped. He also boasted that beer duty “will be cut again by 1 pence”. This, despite price controls being one of only three key strategies prioritised by the World Health Organisation to address alcohol’s harm on society.
This announcement comes shortly after research published in the British Medical Journal that found corporate influence was crucial in the coalition government reversing plans to introduce minimum unit pricing of alcohol.
In contrast to the apparent precedence given to corporate interests in Westminster, the Scottish Government appears to have been more strongly influenced by other concerns, resulting in the decision to pursue minimum unit pricing. Why might this be so? Our research, freely available in the journal PLOS ONE published last week, finds several factors have been important.
Perhaps most obviously, Scotland has far more people experiencing harm (including dying) per person of the population. Even the worst-hit regions of England do not match the level of harm we experience here.
This is only part of the picture. As a smaller country, with a very active and engaged civic society, it has been possible for health campaigners, the police, charities and many others to highlight the issue to politicians.
The more limited remit of the Scottish Parliament seems to have provided politicians with space to prioritise improving Scotland’s health. However, while minimum unit pricing may have Scottish origins, it has been delayed as a result of legal challenges being considered by European institutions.
It has been suggested that Scotland is establishing itself as an international leader, bravely tackling the most serious health problems of today. After being the first in the UK to introduce smoke-free legislation for public places, it is again taking the lead with minimum unit pricing.
• Dr Vittal Katikireddi is a clinical lecturer in public health at the University of Glasgow