Scottish Government delivering update on alcohol minimum unit pricing

The announcement will be delivered by deputy first minister Shona Robison after health secretary Michael Matheson quit.

The Scottish Government is set to announce an update to the minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol.

The SNP is expected to raise the minimum price per unit from 50p to 65p representing a 30% increase.

The statement, expected just after 2pm, was set to be delivered by health secretary Michael Matheson who quit just a few hours before.

Deputy first minister Shona Robison will give the update instead.

Charities have urged the Scottish Government to “do the right thing for public health” and increase the MUP.

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.

Since then, alcohol has had to be sold at a minimum price of 50p per unit.

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.

Health Secretary Michael Matheson
Former health secretary Michael Matheson was due to update Holyrood on the Scottish Government’s plans on Thursday.

Health campaigners say the current MUP has been “eroded” over the years, and needs to be increased.

Ahead of the Scottish Government’s statement, Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), which represents frontline doctors, called on politicians to increase the MUP.

Stressing the need for action, the group said alcohol is linked to three deaths a day in Scotland, with almost 100 people hospitalised every day because of drink.

SHAAP chairman Dr Alastair MacGilchrist said there is “clear evidence” minimum pricing has helped tackle alcohol-related harm in Scotland.

The consultant liver specialist said Shaap “as an organisation representing doctors who work on the front line, we understand how essential MUP is in tackling Scotland’s alcohol crisis”.

But he said the current level of the MUP is “now too low to work at its optimum in saving lives”.

He added: “We are hopeful that at this critical point, Scotland’s politicians do the right thing for public health and vote for it to continue and be uprated.”

Alcohol Focus Scotland also backed increasing the MUP to 65p, with chief executive Alison Douglas saying keeping it at 50p would mean the “positive effects” of the policy would be reversed.

She said: “Alcohol Focus Scotland and more than 30 other organisations, including medical colleges, public health professionals and children’s charities, have been campaigning for the minimum unit price to be increased to at least 65p per unit to combat the recent rise in alcohol deaths, and the impact of the pandemic.

“Hundreds of people are alive today because of minimum unit pricing, while thousands of hospital admissions have been averted. This is both good for people’s health and relieves pressure on our NHS.

“To keep it at the current level of 50p would mean the positive effects we’ve seen will be reversed, condemning hundreds more people and families to unnecessary suffering and loss.”

However, the Institute for Economic Affairs think tank branded MUP a “folly”, and said increasing the level it is set at would result in Scots having to pay more for alcohol.

Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics, said: “With deaths from alcohol abuse at a 14-year high, it is obvious that minimum pricing is not an evidence-based policy.

“The official evaluation overwhelmingly showed that the policy has failed but it is a political project and the Scottish Government was always going to stick with it, come what may.

“Scottish drinkers have paid dearly for the folly of minimum pricing and they will now have to pay even more.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Research commended by public health experts estimated that our world-leading Minimum Unit Pricing policy saved hundreds of lives, likely averted hundreds of alcohol-attributable hospital admissions and contributed to reducing health inequalities.

“Since our public consultation closed in November 2023, we have been reviewing respondent feedback as well as the wide range of evidence relating to MUP.

“The health secretary will deliver a statement on MUP in Parliament on Thursday.”

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