Experts expect Scotland's alcohol crackdown to close health/wealth gap

A leading expert who helped provide the model for the Scottish Government's minimum unit pricing on alcohol is predicting that 46 per cent of lives saved by the policy will be among heavy drinkers living in poverty.

Alison Douglas says the increase in the cost of some alcohol will help make society fairer. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Colin Angus, a research fellow at the University of Sheffield, believes the introduction of the 50p minimum price which comes into effect on Tuesday will benefit the poorest in society who, despite being less likely to drink, are the worst affected due to the way they consume alcohol.

The definition used by Angus and his colleagues at Sheffield Alcohol Research Group of a “harmful” drinker is a man who drinks more than 50 units per week and a woman drinking more than 35 units per week.

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These types of so-called harmful drinkers in poverty account for less than 1 per cent of the adult population in Scotland but suffer 15 per cent of all deaths caused by drinking.

A “hazardous” drinker is someone who exceeds the old limits of 21 units per week for men and 14 for women which were revised to 14 units for both sexes in 2016. This equates to five pints of beer at 5 per cent ABV strength to be spaced out over the week.

Angus said: “As well as improving the health of the nation overall, minimum unit pricing will also make inroads into this gap between the worst off in society and everyone else. Almost one-third (31 per cent) of the lives which the policy will save will be in this most vulnerable, group. By effectively targeting those in society who shoulder the greatest burden from their drinking, while having minimal impact on moderate drinkers, our analysis shows that minimum unit pricing will result in a nation which is both more healthy and less unequal.”

Legislation for minimum unit pricing was approved at Holyrood in 2012, but only cleared a legal challenge from the Scotch Whisky Association in the Supreme Court in November.

The Scottish Parliament later approved plans for a 50p minimum unit price which will see the cost of a three-litre bottle of cheap white cider jump from around £3.50 to £11.

Alison Douglas, Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “We know minimum unit pricing won’t solve poverty but it is one of the few public health interventions that can reduce health inequalities in Scotland. If we are serious about closing the gap and making the life chances of our children fairer, we should support minimum price.

“It’s our poorest communities who have the most to gain from minimum pricing because they suffer the most harm. You are six times more likely to die and eight times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of alcohol if you live in our most deprived areas than if you live in our most affluent areas.”

Health Secretary Shona Robison said: “Scotland’s relationship with alcohol is a long and troubled one. Alcohol misuse causes around 700 hospital admissions and 22 deaths each week.

“The research is clear – alcohol consumption and harm go hand in hand. Minimum pricing is the best way to tackle the cheap, high strength alcohol that causes so much damage to so many families.”