Minimum unit pricing has cut Scots alcohol spending

Scotland has set a minimum price for alcohol. Picture: John Devlin
Scotland has set a minimum price for alcohol. Picture: John Devlin

The introduction of minimum unit pricing in Scotland has been successful in reducing the amount of alcohol purchased and consumption by households, finds a new study.

Public health experts say the rest of the UK should now follow Scotland’s lead as the researchers saw a 7.6 per cent reduction in purchases – more than double previous estimates, indicating that real health benefits of MUP could be substantially greater.

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The effects were greatest in households who bought the most alcohol, suggesting the policy “has achieved its ambition to make relatively cheap and strong alcohol less affordable, which should positively impact public health over time,” say the researchers.

In May 2018, Scotland became the first country in the world to introduce a national minimum pricing policy, setting a limit of 50p per unit below which alcohol cannot be sold. Their findings are based on shopping data for 2015-18 from 5,325 Scottish households, compared with 54,807 English households, and 10,040 households in northern England measured for potential cross-border effects.

After adjusting for number of adults in each household, the introduction of MUP was followed by a price increase of 5.1p per unit and a 7.6 per cent reduction in weekly ‘off-trade’ (shop) purchases of alcohol per adult per household.Reductions were most notable for beer, spirits, and cider, including the own-brand spirits and high strength ciders the policy sought to target.

The price increases were greatest in households that bought the largest amount of alcohol and among the lower income groups, supporting the idea that the minimum unite pricing policy effectively targets those most at risk of harm from alcohol with a minimal impact on household budgets.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, “It’s encouraging to see further indications Minimum Unit Pricing may be having a positive impact. The policy was designed to effectively target the most harmful drinkers who buy most of the cheapest, strongest alcohol.

“It’s heartening to see MUP appears to be encouraging the heaviest drinkers to cut down and is having a minimal effect on household budgets.”

Scottish Government Minister for Public Health Joe FitzPatrick said: “These findings from the BMJ study are encouraging and reinforce why Scotland was right to take the innovative step of introducing minimum unit pricing.”