PRICE OF A PINT: Pandemic has changed the drinking behaviour of some people

By Bill Heaney

Has anyone noticed changes in the price of the drinks in the local supermarket – or in public houses and restaurants?  Alcohol Minimum Unit Pricing was up for discussion in the Scottish Parliament this week. MSP John Mason asked the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the impact of minimum unit pricing of alcohol. 

Maree Todd, Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport, told him that particular piece of legislation was taking time to settle,  just like a pint of Guinness on the bar of a public house.

She said: “Public Health Scotland is leading a comprehensive evaluation of the impact of minimum unit pricing of alcohol, details of which can be found on its website. The evaluation is taking place over a five-year period, and a final report will be produced in 2023.

“The evaluation covers the impact of minimum unit pricing in four outcome areas: implementation and compliance, the alcoholic drinks industry, consumption and health, and social harms. As the evaluation is on-going, it would be premature for us to draw conclusions from the findings of the reports that Public Health Scotland has published so far.”

John Mason asked the Minister: “Some charities have been calling for a 65p minimum unit price. Does the Government think that that is a possibility?”

Maree Todd assured him: “The on-going work on the level of the minimum unit price is still under way. It is important that that work be carried out thoroughly in order to ensure that any change to the level has a robust evidence base.

“We know that the pandemic has changed the drinking behaviour of some people—none more so than those who were already drinking heavily before it began. There is more work to be done to understand better the continuing impact of the pandemic on alcohol-related harm.

“That goes much wider than the impact on MUP; it also encompasses the impact on treatment and support services. It is too early to know whether the changes in drinking behaviours during the pandemic are temporary or not. That will be relevant to a review of the price.

With regard to reviewing the level of MUP, it is currently too early in the process for us to make a decision on what level the price might be set at, or to say when that might happen. The legislative procedure to change the minimum unit price requires a Scottish statutory instrument that is subject to affirmative procedure.

“As John Mason will know, that means detailed scrutiny. It is important that we take the time to get it right, so there will be a full public consultation on the matter. I will provide more detail on timings once officials have worked through the details.

Labour MSP Paul O’Kane told parliament: “Many people and organisations, including Labour members, have called for a social responsibility levy to tackle problems relating to alcohol and drug misuse, yet the powers in the Alcohol Etc (Scotland) Act 2010 have not been used in that way.

“Last week, I met Alcohol Focus Scotland, which has called for more work to explore what can be done to ensure that money that is raised through initiatives such as minimum unit pricing can be spent not by the producers but on health interventions. What further action is the Government taking in that regard?”

Maree Todd told him: “As Paul O’Kane will be aware, we have already achieved a number of things. Minimum unit pricing is one policy, but we have taken a number of other actions.

“For example, we have lowered the drink-driving limit, introduced the multi-buy discount ban and increased the number of alcohol brief interventions. We are currently evaluating all those policy inventions.

“There has been a significant change in drinking behaviour during the pandemic. We need to interrogate that and try to understand it better, while evaluating all the measures that we have taken, in order to find a way forward.

“Nonetheless, I absolutely agree with Paul O’Kane that although we have done a lot of work over the years to tackle the unhealthy relationship that Scotland has with alcohol, it is still a significant problem for us.

“During the first year of the pandemic, 23 people’s deaths a week were directly related to alcohol. There is, therefore, much more work to be done, and I am willing to consider all options.”

  • On a recent visit to the supermarket for wine, I noticed that the price of a bottle of Fleurie in M&S at the St James retail park in Dumbarton had risen to £12.50. Across the road in Morrisons it was as low as £8.50 which meant that by going there I could save as much as £8 on two bottles of wine. Now that’s incredible. Editor

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