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Trade divided on MUP increase

Published:  09 February, 2024

The minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol in Scotland will rise from 50p to 65p, Holyrood has announced.

In 2018, Scotland became the first country in the world to set a minimum price for alcohol as part of a larger national alcohol strategy to target cheap, high-strength beverages as a key source of problem drinking in the country.

The increase in MUP, which amounts to 30%, would set the minimum price for a bottle of wine at £6.09.

The hikes will be put to the Scottish parliament on 19 February, with the increase set to take effect from October this year.

Trade bodies north of the border have given a mixed response to Holyrood’s announcement. However, the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA), a longtime supporter of the MUP, welcomed news of the increase.

“Scotland has long had a challenging relationship with alcohol and the link between low prices and increased consumption is clear,” said Colin Wilkinson, SLTA managing director.

“The sale of cheap alcohol has been a major factor in many people developing alcohol-related problems so a proportionate increase in MUP makes absolute sense,” he added.

The 50p level was approved by the Scottish parliament nearly 12 years ago, this latest rise is intended to counteract the effects of inflation.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Beer and Pub Association (SBPA) was less enthused by the increase, describing it as another blow for the trade and consumers alike, in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis.

“The decision to press ahead with a significant increase to MUP is disappointing, especially during a cost-of-living crisis,” said Emma McClarkin, CEO of the SBPA.

“The vast majority of people consume alcohol responsibly and this increase will put further pressure on strained household budgets.”

McClarkin also pointed to a lack of evidence of the policy’s intended health benefits.

“The evaluation also showed no substantial evidence of the policy working. The future introduction of a DRS (Deposit Return Scheme) will also interact with MUP, particularly lower-strength products such as beer and likely distort consumer behaviour, which has not been considered. We strongly advise the Scottish government to reconsider the increase at this time and instead look towards targeted interventions which have a proven record in tackling alcohol misuse.”

The restrictions are not without precedent, however. According to the National Records of Scotland, 1,276 people died from conditions caused by alcohol in Scotland in 2022, the equivalent of 24 a week – the highest number of deaths since 2008.

“The retention of and the proposed increase in the level of MUP will help avoid a return to the days of deep discounting and irresponsible promotions which were particularly seen in supermarkets where alcohol, on some occasions, was being sold cheaper than bottled water and below cost as a loss-leader,” Wilkinson of the SLTA continued.

“Pubs and bars provide a controlled and safe environment for people drinking alcohol whereas people drinking at home are not necessarily aware of how much they are drinking,” he added.

Deputy first minister Shona Robison described the MUP policy as “world-leading” during yesterday’s (8 February) announcement.

“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, deaths specifically caused by alcohol are on the rise in Scotland. In 2022, female deaths alone spiked from 31 to 440. 

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane said the MUP is not a “miracle cure” and merely “punishes responsible drinkers”.

“What is perhaps most concerning is the report from Public Health Scotland that highlighted that problem drinkers are choosing to skip meals in order to buy alcohol.

“I am deeply concerned that the deputy first minister did not address my concerns on the failure of MUP to reduce alcohol-related deaths and help dependent drinkers,” Gulhane said.