The introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing for Alcohol (MUP) in Scotland in 2018, which was set at 50 pence per unit of alcohol, is one of a number of measures that have been linked with a reduction in alcohol consumption and decreases in hospital admissions from alcohol-related liver conditions. Scotland also saw a 10% decrease in the number of alcohol-specific deaths in 2019 – prior to the pandemic.
The Covid-19 restrictions, especially on licensed premises, have almost certainly encouraged greater uptake of drinking at home. Sadly, deaths caused by alcohol rose by 17% in 2020.
Scottish Labour believe that action is needed to address the growing alcohol-related crisis. Whilst MUP is not – and never has been – the sole solution to reducing alcohol consumption, it plays an important role. As such, we support Alcohol Focus Scotland and Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems in their campaign for MUP to increase. The Scottish Government committed to review the MUP two years after the introduction of the policy in 2018. Whilst the pandemic has understandably delayed such steps, this should be undertaken as soon as possible.
In addition to MUP, Scottish Labour remains committed to implementing a social responsibility levy on alcohol sales to support a new alcohol strategy. As outlined in our 2021 manifesto, this plan would focus on reducing consumption through licensing, marketing restrictions, labelling and affordability, as well as improving treatment services and early intervention programmes for families with children.
It is regrettable that the Scottish Government has failed to provide adequate financial resource to services – including Alcohol and Drugs Partnerships – to deliver more focused support around alcohol consumption. One such example is the cut to the Alcohol Brief Interventions budget, which was having a real impact. The Scottish Government need to realise that MUP is not a one size fits all solution, and Scottish Labour will continue to lobby for greater investment in alcohol-related services and treatments.