Campaigning for a minimum unit price for alcohol

We are calling for a minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol to save lives, lower rates of alcohol-related illness and reduce the burden of cheap alcohol on our society.

What is the problem?

Alcohol is 60% more affordable than it was in 1980[1], and strong alcohol products are being sold for pocket money prices up and down the UK. Supermarket own-brand vodkas and high-strength ciders are typically the cheapest on offer. For example, a recent AHA review of prices found 3-litre bottles of 7.5% ABV cider, which contain the same amount of alcohol as 22 shots of vodka, being sold for just £3.50, or 16p per unit.[2]

The cheaper alcohol is, the more people drink, and the more alcohol-related harm is done. Recent trends in alcohol-related harm are worrying – in England over the last decade, alcohol-related hospital admissions have increased by 64%, and the number of people diagnosed with alcohol-related cancer has gone up by 8%.[3]

What is minimum unit pricing?

Minimum unit pricing sets a floor price below which a unit of alcohol cannot be sold. We are calling for the level to be set initially at 50p, alongside a mechanism to regularly review this price to ensure it remains effective. With a 50p minimum unit price, a drink containing 2 units of alcohol cannot be sold for less than £1.

By setting a floor price, MUP would selectivity raise the price of the cheapest alcohol products which are most responsible for harm, while leaving the price of most drinks, including those served in bars and restaurants, unchanged.

Minimum unit pricing has been consistently identified as one of the most effective and cost-effective measures to reduce alcohol harm, most recently in a comprehensive review of alcohol polices published by Public Health England in December 2016. There is widespread support among alcohol health experts, health bodies and campaigners for minimum pricing, and the AHA has found majority support for MUP in our public polling.

What impact would MUP have on alcohol-related harm?

The University of Sheffield has estimated[4] that in the first year alone, a 50p MUP in Scotland would lead to:

  • 60 fewer deaths
  • 1,600 fewer hospital admissions
  • 3,500 fewer crimes.

According to estimates for England[5], 1 year after introducing a 50p MUP there would be:

  • 50,700 fewer crimes
  • 376,600 fewer days absent from work
  • 192 fewer deaths.

The same research found that after 10 years in England, alcohol-related admissions would be down 35,100 per year and over the 10 year period there would substantial gains to the quality of life of individuals, which health economists value at £5.1 billion.

Importantly, the poorest would benefit most. Studies have estimated that 82% of the reductions in premature deaths, and 87% of the gains in terms of quality of life improvements, would come from the lowest income brackets.[6]

Under MUP, will people have to spend a lot more on alcohol?

As most drinks would be left untouched by MUP, moderate drinkers would barely notice the difference in terms of their spending. Moderate drinkers in England and Scotland currently buy less than two units of alcohol a week for less than 50p a unit, and research suggests that, under a 50p MUP, moderate drinkers would spend just £2.25 extra a year on alcohol, with harmful drinkers who consume more cheap alcohol spending £11.78 more per year. [7]

What is happening in Scotland?

Minimum unit pricing was passed by the Scottish Parliament in May 2012, but implementation has been delayed due to a legal challenge from the alcohol industry. Over the course of the legal process so far, the Scottish courts have twice ruled that MUP is legal, though the alcohol industry can now make one final appeal to the UK’s Supreme Court. This appeal will be heard in July 2017. If the Supreme Court confirms the ruling of the Scottish courts that minimum unit pricing is legal, implementation in Scotland will follow.

What about the rest of the UK?

In Westminster, minimum unit pricing was included in the coalition government’s alcohol strategy in 2012, but it has yet to be implemented. There should be no further delay in implementing the measure, however – the evidence is already clear that minimum unit pricing would significantly reduce alcohol-related harm.

In Wales, the government wishes to implement minimum unit pricing, but at present doesn’t have the necessary devolved powers and is reliant on Westminster to introduce the measure in both England and Wales. The Northern Ireland government has the powers to introduce MUP, and the previous administration expressed its intention to do so.

[1] NHS Digital (2017). Statistics on Alcohol. Available at http://www.content.digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB23940/alc-eng-2017-rep.pdf

[2] Alcohol Health Alliance (2016). Cheap Alcohol: the price we pay. Available at http://12coez15v41j2cf7acjzaodh.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/AHA-price-survey_FINAL.pdf

[3] Local Alcohol Profiles for England: https://fingertips.phe.org.uk/profile/local-alcohol-profiles

[4] Meng Y., et al (2012). Model-based appraisal of alcohol minimum pricing and off-licensed trade discount bans in Scotland using the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model (v 2): Second update based on newly available data. Sheffield: University of Sheffield School of Health and Related Research. Available at www.sheffield.ac.uk/polopoly_fs/1.156503!/file/scotlandjan.pdf

[5] Meng Y., et al. (2013). Modelled income group-specific impacts of alcohol minimum unit pricing in England 2014/15: Policy appraisals using new developments to the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model (v.2.5). Sheffield: University of Sheffield School of Health and Related Research. Available at https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/polopoly_fs/1.291621!/file/julyreport.pdf

[6] Holmes, J., et al. (2014) ‘Effects of minimum unit pricing for alcohol on different income and socioeconomic groups: a modelling study‘, The Lancet, 383 (9929), 1655-64.

[7] University of Sheffield. FAQ – minimum unit pricing. Available at https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/scharr/sections/ph/research/alpol/faq