Price of drink up again as SNP roll out a 65p minimum unit price
The Scottish Government wants to ‘hit responsible drinkers during a cost-of-living crisis’ by hiking the minimum unit price, even though there is no conclusive evidence that it is actually working
SNP Ministers were accused of doubling down on a failed policy by announcing plans to increase the minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol to 65p. The hike from 50p would mean that a 700ml bottle of Scotch whisky would cost a minimum of £18.20 and a four-pack of 440ml cans of 5% ABV beer would cost at least £5.72, according to the Scottish Daily Express.
It comes despite alcohol deaths in Scotland standing at a 15-year high and amid deep uncertainty over the effictiveness of the controversial policy. Ahead of today’s announcement by drugs and alcohol policy minister Elena Whitham, the Scottish Government was accused of using a previously discredited report to claim that MUP had been a success.
Conservative health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane highlighted that a press release on the supposed benefits had been updated after he complained about it to the UK Statistics Authority.
He said: “The launching of a second consultation shows even SNP ministers have concerns over any significant changes to their flagship minimum unit pricing policy.
“Increasing it to 65p per unit would only hit responsible drinkers during a cost-of-living crisis. Alcohol deaths are at their highest level since 2008 on the SNP’s watch and it is clear their blanket approach to tackling this crisis is simply not working, or supporting those who most need help with alcohol addiction.
“Ministers had to amend a press release boasting of its success and were criticised for cherry-picking from one particular study to try and suit their narrative.”
At 65p per unit, a 700ml volume of vodka or gin would have a minimum price of £17.07 and pack of four 440ml cans of cider would cost at least £5.15. The proposed increase is in line with action called for by groups such as Alcohol Focus Scotland. However, some campaigners have called for the MUP to rise to 80p – and the consultation could still recommend that a higher price is set.
The price of drink
|Product||Strength (ABV)||Volume (ml)||New minimum price|
|Scotch whisky||40%||700ml bottle||£18.20|
Source: Scottish Government consultation
A spokeswoman for the Scotch Whisky Association said: “Alcohol misuse is complex but is a challenge that must be addressed. The Scotch whisky industry is committed to working in partnership with the Scottish Government to achieve that shared goal, including through the SWA’s ‘Made to be Measured’ campaign.
“An increase of the minimum unit price of alcohol in Scotland from 50p to 65p would push up the minimum price of Scotch whisky from £14 to £18.20 – a significant increase of 30 per cent that would impact consumers across Scotland, the vast majority of whom drink responsibly. We will analyse the consultation in detail and respond in due course.”
The MUP was set at 50p when introduced in 2018 and the legislation will expire on April 30, 2024. In the four years since it was introduced, alcohol-related deaths have risen year on year to reach 1,276 in 2022 – the highest number since 2008.
‘More than 20 people die in Scotland every week due to alcohol misuse’
Ms Whitham said: “The recent rise in alcohol-specific deaths highlights the need for more to be done to tackle alcohol-related harm. Our world-leading MUP policy is one of the measures we know can make a difference.
“Recent research estimated it has saved hundreds of lives, likely averted hundreds of alcohol-attributable hospital admissions each year, and also contributed to reducing health inequalities. It is one of a range of measures we have in place across prevention and treatment services to reduce alcohol harm.
“We believe the proposals set out in this consultation strike a reasonable balance between public health benefits and any effects on the alcoholic drinks market and subsequent impact on consumers, but we want to hear from all sides and urge everyone to take the time to respond.”
In its consultation document, the SNP executive said it settled on 65p as it believes this price will bring the most health benefits while minimising interference in the market. It said a price of 70p or more would result in “a more significant distortion to the market”, with some premium products being included.
The consultation will continue for nine weeks, after which ministers will make a final decision on whether MUP should continue and what the unit price will be.
Responding to the plans, Liberal Democrat Willie Rennie said: “Scottish Liberal Democrats were the first party to call for this change, so I am glad that ministers have listened. If MUP doesn’t move with inflation then the ambition of the policy is eroded. More than 20 people a week are dying in Scotland due to alcohol misuse. This is shocking and preventable, so we need to take steps to stop alcohol wrecking lives and communities.”