As part of the Alcohol Health Alliance, the British Liver Trust has signed an open letter to the Scottish Government, calling for the minimum unit price for alcohol to be raised from 50p to 65p, and to ensure it is kept in line with inflation in the future.
What is minimum unit pricing?
Minimum unit pricing is a floor price below which a unit of alcohol cannot be sold in Scotland. The heaviest drinkers tend to favour strong and cheap drinks, and those are the drinks that minimum unit pricing targets.
Modelling by Sheffield University indicates that a higher price of 60p or 70p would save significantly more lives and prevent more hospital admissions. It is estimated that a minimum price of 60p would deliver double the reduction in deaths and hospital admissions compared to 50p, and that 70p would deliver three times the effect.
The Scottish Government committed to review the price two years after implementation and while this has understandably been delayed due to the pandemic, we cannot afford to wait any longer.
There are two main reasons why raising minimum unit pricing is needed now: inflation and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- It’s widely acknowledged that the current 50p per unit has been eroded by inflation over the nine years since the policy was brought in. Based on the retail price index a minimum unit price of 50p in 2012 is equivalent to 61p in 2021.
- Although early research into minimum unit pricing suggesting the policy appears to be reducing alcohol consumption rates and hospital admissions, 2020 saw the highest number of alcohol-specific deaths registered in Scotland since 2008. Sadly, 1,190 people died of alcohol-specific causes in 2020 – an increase of 17% on 2019. This is only a year after Scotland had seen a reduction of 10% in alcohol related deaths - a sign that minimum unit pricing was saving lives. These figures indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic may have undermined the initial health gains made after the introduction the policy.
It’s time to raise minimum unit pricing in Scotland
Vanessa Hebditch, Director of Policy and Communications at the British Liver Trust, says: “Whilst alcohol is only one of the causes, it is still the leading cause of deaths from liver disease. In addition, reducing alcohol harm benefits everyone in society, relieving pressure on the NHS and many other public services funded by the tax-payer. To realise greater benefits from this policy, we must act to off-set the effects of inflation and the effects of the pandemic, and set the minimum unit price at a level that will save more lives and prevent a new generation from developing an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.”
For more information and evidence for the need to raise minimum unit pricing, please read this overview.