Drinks prices to rise as ministers tackle alcohol abuse
Drinkers will be hit by a sharp increase in prices after the Scottish government announced a 30% hike in the minimum price for alcohol in an attempt to tackle deaths and hospital admissions.
Deputy First Minister Shona Robison announced the minimum unit price (MUP) will be increased from 50p to 65p and if approved by parliament on 19 February will come into force on 30 September.
Under the 65p MUP, a 700ml bottle of Scotch whisky will cost a minimum of £18.20 – up from £14 – while a similar bottle of gin will have a minimum price of £17.07.
A pack of four 440ml cans of cider will cost at least £5.15, while a pack of four beer cans of the same size will set customers back at least £5.72. The lowest price for a bottle of wine would rise from £4.88 to £6.34. Critics say the hikes threaten to wipe out cider sales in Scotland.
The Scottish government introduced the world’s first MUP in 2018 after fending off a series of legal challenges.
Ms Robison told MSPs today: “Research commended by internationally-renowned public health experts estimated that our world-leading minimum unit pricing policy has saved hundreds of lives, likely averted hundreds of alcohol-attributable hospital admissions and contributed to reducing health inequalities.
“Despite this progress, deaths caused specifically by alcohol rose last year – and my sympathy goes out to all those who have lost a loved one.
“We believe the proposals, which are supported by Scotland’s chief medical officer, strike a reasonable balance between public health benefits and any effects on the alcoholic drinks market and impact on consumers.
“Evidence suggests there has not been a significant impact on business and industry as a whole.
“Alongside MUP, we will continue to invest in treatment and a wide range of other measures, including funding for alcohol and drug partnerships which rose to £112m in 2023-24.”
Public Health Scotland previously said there were 13.4% fewer alcohol-related deaths than would have been the case without minimum pricing being in force.
However, critics say there is little evidence that MUP prevents consumption among low-income alcoholics and that it penalises casual drinkers as well as the drinks industry.
Official figures revealed that even with MUP in force 1,276 people died from alcohol-related health issues last year – the highest number since 2008.
Peter Cheema, CEO of the Scottish Grocers’ Federation, said: “If it moves to 65p, it will be the poorest people with the lowest level of income that will be hit the hardest. And we don’t think that’s quite right.”
During today’s debate Scottish Conservative health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane said MUP was not a “miracle cure” and “simply punishes responsible drinkers”.
He said: “As a practising GP, I am well aware of the plight of alcoholism in Scotland. However, it is clear that MUP is not reducing alcohol-related deaths as the SNP are claiming.
“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.”
Mo Razzaq, the national vice president of the Federation of Independent Retailers, said raising the minimum price for alcohol sold in Scottish shops will not stop problem drinking but could put retailers at further risk from retail crime.
“It is not going to tackle the issue of alcohol consumption. Anyone with alcohol abuse issues will steal the product if they cannot afford it, as it is an addiction,” he said.
Mr Razzaq, who runs a convenience store in Blantyre, Glasgow, added: “The government is not spending enough to get people addicted to alcohol with the help they need. There also needs to be highly effective campaigning to help change Scotland’s attitude towards drink. As usual, it is passing the buck to businesses.”
However, the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, a long-time supporter of minimum unit pricing for alcohol, has welcomed today’s announcement.
It has fully supported the principle of a minimum unit price for alcohol and commended the Scottish Government in 2011 for its efforts to tackle the problem of “cheap booze” and the consequences of irresponsible promotions in Scotland.
The trade association said that controls on pricing continue to be the foundation for other complementary policies to be effective in cracking down on irresponsible pricing and promotions.
Colin Wilkinson, SLTA managing director, commented: “Scotland has long had a challenging relationship with alcohol and the link between low prices and increased consumption is clear.
“The sale of cheap alcohol has been a major factor in many people developing alcohol-related problems so a proportionate increase in MUP make absolute sense.
“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.
“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.”