Minimum Unit Price of 50p on alcohol has positive lasting impact

A new study has shown that a '50p per unit' policy on alcohol prices in Scotland is having a lasting impact on reducing consumption in some of the heaviest-drinking households.

The study led by Fuse members from Newcastle University shows a Minimum Unit Price (MUP) policy for alcohol, introduced in Scotland in 2018, continues to have a positive impact on lowering drinking levels two years on.

The findings, published in Lancet Public Health, also showed that the introduction of a MUP in Wales last year had a similar impact on reducing alcohol consumption for heavier drinking households.

The team looked at the alcohol purchases of more than 35,000 British households. Alcohol purchases decreased by 7.7% in Scotland following the introduction of the 50p per unit of alcohol policy and, in both Scotland and Wales, households that tended to buy the most alcohol were those most likely to reduce their amount.

Study findings

The study used data from Kantar WorldPanel's household shopping panel, which provided detailed information on 1.24 million separate alcohol purchases between 2015 and 2018, and the first half of 2020.

The impact of introducing the MUP in Scotland was analysed using purchases in Northern England as a control, alongside the impact of introducing MUP in Wales with Western England as the control.

Fuse Associate Professor Peter Anderson, from Newcastle University, who led the study, said: "The introduction of a MUP in Scotland has made a significant impact on reducing alcohol levels, with a sustained drop in overall units bought by some of the highest-consuming households two years on.

"We can now see that the introduction of a MUP in Wales at the beginning of March 2020 has had a similar impact to the one we saw in Scotland in 2018 and we hope to see a continued benefit.

"This is an important step forwards in addressing high levels of alcohol-related health problems and social harm that is caused by too much alcohol consumption."

The team found that the highest purchasing households in Scotland and Wales that fell into the very lowest income bracket (the lowest fifth) did not seem to reduce the amount of alcohol they purchased, and so their expenditure on alcohol increased in line with the increase in price.

Lower purchasing households, including those with the very lowest incomes, did not increase their expenditure on alcohol, following the introduction of MUP.

While household purchases of alcohol increased during covid-19 lockdowns, the level of impact of MUP between Scotland compared to Northern England, and Wales compared to Western England remained the same.

Effective policy

Dr Amy O'Donnell, Fuse Associate from Newcastle University and a co-author of the study, said: "We know that MUP is a cost-effective policy, and our study shows it appears to be making a difference to purchasing habits.

"The next step should be to establish whether the policy is also having an impact on the amount of units drinkers are consuming."

Alcohol use is a leading risk factor for ill-health and premature death, and if consumption can be decreased, especially in the heaviest drinkers, it will reduce the alcohol-attributable health burden.

Overall, MUP is an effective policy that could be widely and easily implemented, and the research suggests that it is an option to reduce alcohol purchases.

Fuse Senior Investigator Professor Eileen Kaner, from Newcastle University, who also co-authored the study, said: "We know that drinkers at the greatest risk of harm tend to consume the cheapest alcohol, particularly from shops and supermarkets, where prices are much lower.

"This is why MUP as a public health policy specifically targets lower cost products, and this impact has been seen the most in products such as ciders and to some extent spirits.

"However, it is a concern to see that high-purchasing, lowest income households did not adjust their buying habits, and spending simply increased as a result of the MUP policy. This is something that we want to explore further so we can better understand the reasons behind this, as well as its impact."

NHS Health Scotland is also leading a comprehensive evaluation to assess the impact of MUP on a range of outcomes, the complete findings of which will be reported in 2023.

Powerful evidence

Sharing his views on the research, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said: "This is powerful real-world evidence of the success of minimum unit pricing as a harm reduction policy.

"Westminster has said time and time again that it is waiting for evidence from Scotland and Wales on minimum unit pricing, meanwhile, 80 people a day are dying from an alcohol related cause.

"The evidence is here – it's time for the Government to introduce minimum unit pricing in England in order to save lives, cut crime and reduce pressure on our NHS and emergency services."


Read the full paper: Impact of minimum unit pricing on alcohol purchases in Scotland and Wales: controlled interrupted time series analyses. Peter Anderson et al. Lancet Public Health.

Last modified: Fri, 04 Jun 2021 16:50:14 BST