Scotland expected to raise minimum alcohol price by 30%

The minimum price of alcoholic drinks in Scotland is poised to rise by 30% under measures to control alcohol-related deaths and hospitalisations.

Ministers in Edinburgh are expected to confirm that the minimum unit price for alcohol will increase from 50p to 65p from early May, six years after Scotland became the first part of the UK to introduce the policy.

Public Health Scotland said last year that minimum pricing had been “associated” with a 13.5% fall in deaths wholly attributable to alcohol, compared with the expected death rate had minimum pricing not been in force.

Yet Scotland has experienced a 25% rise in alcohol-related deaths over the past three years, while the number of people using alcohol treatment services has fallen by 40% over the past decade, increasing the pressure on ministers.

A 65p rate will be widely welcomed by health campaigners, who have been pressing for the minimum price to increase, partly to keep pace with inflation and to ensure it continues to suppress cheap alcohol sales.

The minimum cost of a standard bottle of whisky in Scotland will be pushed from £14 to £18.20, vodka to £16.90 and a four-pack of basic lager to £4.58.

Willie Rennie, the former Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and its now its economy spokesperson, who has long championed the measure, said he was glad ministers had listened.

“More than 20 people a week in Scotland die due to alcohol misuse, so we need to take steps to stop alcohol wrecking lives and communities,” he said. “That’s before you even get to the pressure that it imposes on our health and justice systems.”

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association, meanwhile, is planning to call this week for minimum pricing to be scrapped entirely, arguing that it is an ineffective or unfair way to combat alcohol abuse, and unjustifiable during a cost of living crisis.

David Richardson, its consumer affairs director, said: “Targeted measures have significantly greater impact without penalising the vast majority who do drink responsibly.”

Scottish Labour supports the policy but has called for an additional alcohol levy on retailers to tax the unearned profits retailers earn from minimum pricing, with the proceeds passed directly to the NHS and efforts to combat addiction.

Research by the Fraser of Allander Institute for Alcohol Focus Scotland, published on Monday, estimates that retailers make about £30m a year in excess profits because they pocket the difference between the minimum price and the wholesale cost of the drink.

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It estimated a levy could raise £57m a year if a non-domestic rates surcharge of 13p was imposed. It would be similar to a public health supplement Scotland levied on supermarkets between 2012 and 2015, which raised £95m.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “The Scottish government has recognised the increasing number of deaths from alcohol as a public health emergency, but to tackle this issue needs appropriate funding.”

Minimum pricing was first proposed by the Scottish National party in 2008 to combat Scotland’s soaring alcohol-related deaths and binge-drinking, in a move since mirrored by the Welsh government. Similar plans by the UK government for England stalled and are no longer being considered.

The Scottish policy was challenged in court by the Scotch Whisky Association but in 2017 the UK supreme court ruled that it was “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim” and lawful on health grounds under EU law.


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