Scotland continues to see a drop in per person alcohol sales, highlighting the effect minimum unit pricing is having. Those exceeding the 14 unit guidance has dropped from 34% in 2003 to 24% in 2019.
These findings were revealed in the MESAS Monitoring Report 2021, published by Public Health Scotland as part of the continued delivery of the Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland’s Alcohol Strategy (MESAS) programme. This annual report provides the latest available information and key statistics on alcohol consumption, price and related harms.
In 2020 population-level alcohol consumption in Scotland – estimated from alcohol retail sales – fell to its lowest level in the available time series (1994 onwards). 9.4 litres of pure alcohol were sold per adult, equivalent to an average consumption of 18 units per adult per week, which still substantially exceeds the low risk weekly drinking guideline of 14 units. The volume of pure alcohol sold in Scotland was 6% higher than in England and Wales, the smallest difference seen between the two areas.
The average price of alcohol sold in Scottish supermarkets and off-licences rose to 63 pence per unit in 2020, up from 62p in 2019. In England and Wales the average price of off-trade alcohol rose from 57p to 59p per unit over the same timeframe. In 2020, the majority (64%) of pure alcohol sold in Scotland was recorded as being sold at between 50.0p and 64.9p per unit, compared to 32% before Minimum Unit Pricing was implemented.
Alcohol continues to be a leading cause of illness and early death in Scotland, and significant inequalities persist in both alcohol consumption and the harm it causes. For those that exceed the low risk weekly drinking guideline, mean weekly consumption is highest amongst those in the lowest income group. In 2019, 1,020 people in Scotland died due to a cause wholly attributable to alcohol, with rates of death caused directly by alcohol substantially higher in the most deprived areas of Scotland, compared to the least deprived.
Dr Elizabeth Richardson, Public Health Intelligence Adviser at Public Health Scotland, said: “Today’s MESAS report shows population-level alcohol consumption in Scotland has fallen for the third consecutive year, with the reduction from 9.9 litres per adult in 2019 to 9.4 litres per adult in 2020 representing the largest year-on-year decrease in Scotland in the time series available.
“In 2020 COVID-19 restrictions included the closure of licenced alcohol premises, such as pubs, clubs and restaurants. We have previously shown that per-adult sales were lower overall between March and July last year, during the first national lockdown, and it’s likely that the pandemic and associated restrictions have contributed to the lower alcohol consumption we see across the Scottish population in 2020.
“Despite these trends, the most recent survey data show that nearly a quarter of people still drink more than the recommended low risk weekly guideline. Among people exceeding the guideline, it is those in the lowest income group who are likely to consume the most.
“An average of 20 people per week die as a result of their alcohol consumption, and whilst this latest figure represents the lowest rate since 2012, again it is those in the most-deprived areas that are more likely to be hospitalised or die because of an alcohol-related harm. Like all harm caused by alcohol, this is preventable”.
Public Health Scotland will continue to monitor and evaluate Scotland’s alcohol strategy, to gauge progress and understand what works to reduce the harm alcohol causes.
Alison Douglas, Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “We’re really pleased to see that as a nation we are drinking less for the third year running and that alcohol consumption is at a 25-year low – this is a good indication that minimum unit pricing is having the intended effect.
“Although the restrictions on pubs and restaurants for much of 2020 will have affected consumption across the UK, it is notable that the reduction in alcohol purchases in Scotland is greater than in England and Wales.
“But given nearly a quarter of Scots are still regularly drinking over the chief medical officers’ low-risk drinking guidelines, we can’t afford to take our eye off the ball where preventing alcohol harm is concerned.”