Minimum alcohol pricing to rise by 30%, Scottish Government confirms

The price per unit of alcohol will rise to 65p, up from 50p.

Minimum alcohol unit pricing to rise by 30%, Scottish Government confirms iStock

Minimum unit pricing for alcohol in Scotland will rise by 30%, the Scottish Government has announced.

The price per unit will now increase from 50p to 65p, deputy first minister Shona Robison said.

Robison is delivering the statement after former health secretary Michael Matheson quit just hours before.

Scotland was the first country in the world to set a minimum price at which drink can be sold when the policy was introduced in May 2018.

A sunset clause on the legislation means the current regulations will expire at the end of April this year, and ministers have been consulting on increasing the MUP to 65p.

The Scottish Government proposal will need to be approved by MSPs. If Parliament agrees, it will take effect on 30 September 2024.

She announced the change as she warned health harms caused by alcohol are still a “significant issue in Scotland”.

Shona Robison
Shona Robison said minimum unit pricing has saved hundreds of lives.

The deputy first minister said: “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 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.”

While deaths from alcohol have increased, with 1,276 alcohol-specific deaths in 2022, Robison insisted more people would have died if the policy had not been in place.

She said the policy struck a “reasonable balance between public health benefits and any effects on the alcoholic drinks market and impact on consumers”.

Robison added: “Evidence suggests there has not been a significant impact on business and industry as a whole.”

Inflation means the current MUP of 50p should increase to “at least 60p per unit”, she told Holyrood.

And with Scotland facing a “growing burden of disease”, she added action is needed to reduce the causes of ill health.

But Scottish Conservative health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane insisted MUP is “not the magic bullet that the Scottish Government are continuing to laud”.

Tory MSP Sandesh Gulhane said MUP is not a ‘magic bullet’.

Dr Gulhane told MSPs alcohol-related deaths are “at a 14-year high in Scotland”.

He added: “There are 40 studies in the evaluation of MUP and only one claimed a reduction in deaths.”

Robison however told him: “It is likely that without MUP tragically we would have experienced an even greater number of alcohol-specific deaths.”

Doctors’ leaders and health campaigners welcomed the proposed rise in MUP, with Dr Iain Kennedy of the British Medical Association Scotland saying the policy has already made a “real difference”.

Dr Kennedy, a member of the BMA Scotland consultant committee, added that while the decision to increase it is “the right one”, the Government “must focus on delivering a package of supportive measures to ensure we are not simply relying on minimum unit pricing to reduce the harm caused by problem alcohol use in Scotland, as crucial as this policy is”.

He added: “The current, and hopefully continued, success of minimum unit pricing should be a rallying call to go further and save more lives.”

Dr Sorcha Hume, Cancer Research UK’s public affairs manager for Scotland, said the increase could help reduce cancer deaths.

She said: “Alcohol is a known cause of cancer and the more someone drinks the greater their risk of cancer, so reducing alcohol consumed will reduce the risk of cancer.

“Not only will raising the minimum unit price of alcohol help to reduce the number of lives lost to cancer each year, but it will also reduce pressure on the NHS as well as help tackle health inequalities experienced by people in Scotland.”

However Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the Scottish Beer and Pub Association, said the rise is “disappointing, especially during a cost-of-living crisis”.

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

“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.”

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