THE price of alcohol in Scotland looks set to increase after the Scottish Government published plans to increase the level of minimum unit pricing (MUP).

The current policy of 50p per unit is set to expire next year and plans to uprate it to 65p are included in a new consultation on the future of the policy.

It comes after a report from the University of Sheffield concluded inflation and the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have eroded the impact of MUP on alcohol consumption.

MUP has been estimated to have reduced the amount people drink alcohol by 3% since it was introduced in Scotland in 2018.

But researchers have found recent high levels of inflation and the fact heavier drinkers increased their alcohol consumption during the coronavirus crisis have cancelled out many of the benefits of MUP.

READ MORE: BBC producers rapped over 'skewed' Scottish alcohol deaths graph

SNP minister Elena Whitham (below) said: “The recent rise in alcohol-specific deaths highlights the need for more to be done to tackle alcohol-related harm.

“Our world-leading minimum unit pricing policy is one of the measures we know can make a difference. Recent research estimated it has saved hundreds of lives, likely averted hundreds of alcohol-attributable hospital admissions each year and also contributed to reducing health inequalities. It is one of a range of measures we have in place across prevention and treatment services to reduce alcohol harm.

“We believe the proposals set out in this consultation strike a reasonable balance between public health benefits and any effects on the alcoholic drinks market and subsequent impact on consumers, but we want to hear from all sides and urge everyone to take the time to respond.”

MUP was set at 50p per unit in 2018 but researchers believe it is now equivalent to 41p after adjusting for the effects of inflation, with experts concluding consumption is 2.2% higher than it would have been if MUP had risen in line with inflation.

Researchers have warned that failing to link MUP to inflation going forward will cost more lives and support organisations are calling for it for be urgently uprated to at least 65p.

The National:

New modelling has found that even if alcohol consumption returns to pre-pandemic levels in 2023, an estimated 663 more people will die and there will be 8653 additional hospital admissions linked to alcohol, costing the NHS £10.9 million, by 2040. 

Where alcohol consumption remains at pandemic levels in the longer term, researchers have concluded there could be almost 8000 additional deaths and more than 91,000 more hospital admissions.

Colin Angus, senior research fellow at the University of Sheffield’s centre for health and related research, said: “We now have the evidence to demonstrate that MUP has worked to reduce alcohol harm, but high inflation means 50p per unit in 2023 is considerably less effective than 50p was when MUP was first introduced in Scotland five years ago. 

READ MORE: Rishi Sunak attracts Tory anger amid backtrack on climate policies

“Our new analysis suggests that alcohol consumption is 2.2% higher than it would have been if the MUP level had risen in line with inflation since it was introduced.

“Failing to link the MUP level to inflation means that the level would need to rise from 50p to 61p just to maintain the same effectiveness at reducing harm. Consideration should also be given to the effects of inflation in the future to ensure that the positive impacts of the policy are not eroded over time.

“Maintaining an effective MUP level is even more important since the pandemic, during which we saw an increase in the alcohol consumption of heavier drinkers and a corresponding rise in alcohol-specific deaths.”

The report presents new analysis showing that people in Scotland drinking within the UK low-risk guidelines of 14 units per week – who make up over three quarters of the adult population – reduced their alcohol consumption during the pandemic on average.

However, people drinking over the guidelines pre-pandemic increased their drinking in 2020.

Statistics released last month by the National Records of Scotland showed 1276 people died from conditions caused by alcohol in 2022 – the highest number since 2008.

Laura Mahon, deputy chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland – a charity working to reduce alcohol harm – said unless MUP is uprated, the positive effects Scotland has seen will be reversed.

READ MORE: SNP MP Mhairi Black warns of Rutherglen by-election voter ID concerns

She said: “In 2012 there was a broad consensus across the Parliament about the desperate need for bold action to address the scale of our alcohol problem in Scotland and recognition that minimum unit pricing (MUP) had to be a cornerstone of our approach.

“With the recent rise in alcohol deaths, and the impact of the pandemic we need the Scottish Parliament to come together once again to renew and reinvigorate MUP.

“It is not enough for MUP to be retained. Unless there is support to increase the price, the positive effects we’ve seen will be reversed, condemning hundreds more people to unnecessary suffering and loss.

“This is particularly true for people living in our most deprived communities, where we’ve seen the greatest benefits from MUP.

“Alcohol Focus Scotland along with more than 30 other organisations including medical bodies and children’s charities believes the minimum unit price should be increased to at least 65p to keep pace with inflation and save lives into the future.”

The Sheffield report also estimated the effectiveness of the new alcohol duty reforms implemented by the UK Government on August 1 this year.

Results showed the alcohol duty reform, which has seen changes to the way in which taxes are levied on wine and cider in particular, is estimated to lead to a small (0.4%) reduction in population alcohol consumption in Scotland.