The Federation of Independent Retailers, which represents more than 10,000 retailers and small businesses across the UK and Ireland, is calling on the Scottish Government not to impose too steep a rise in the minimum unit price of alcohol.
The government is currently consulting the industry on its views on a range of MUP rates – 50p per unit, the current level, as well as 60p, 70p and 80p or more. Health campaigners have long argued that the impact of the 50p level has been significantly eroded by inflation, and a recent statement signed by more than 30 health organisations and charities called for MUP to be increased to at least 65p, among other measures.
Scotland’s MUP legislation is subject to a ‘sunset clause’, which means that the Scottish Parliament needs to vote before May next year on whether or not to keep it in place. Legal challenges by the alcohol industry delayed the implementation of MUP in Scotland by several years after the legislation had been passed, and the Scottish Government is currently reviewing the evidence and considering whether to recommend to MSPs that MUP continues and what the new level should be.
Public Health Scotland’s final report on MUP, published in June, claimed that MUP had reduced alcohol deaths by 13 per cent and hospital admissions by 4 per cent, with the most impact felt in the country’s most deprived areas. However, it also acknowledged that there was little evidence of any impact on people with alcohol dependence, with many prioritising spending on alcohol over food and other essentials.
Scotland’s first minister, Humza Yousaf, told BBC Scotland that it was vital to ‘make sure, from a government perspective, that we have a robust evidence base and that we have done the consultation with stakeholders as necessary’, and would not be drawn on any potential future rate.
‘We can see the argument for increasing the price which has been in place for five years, a time of inflation,’ said president of the Federation of Independent Retailers, Hussan Lal. ‘However over 80p is over the top. We welcome any reduction in harmful levels of drinking. It undoubtedly blights many lives. However we feel that, as Public Health Scotland has suggested, this scheme can only be part of the solution. Our members feel there needs to be highly effective campaigning to help change Scotland’s attitude towards drink, and therapy for problem drinking needs to be much more widely available.’