Lifestyle Economics

Minimum pricing had no impact on alcohol-related deaths in Scotland, says new IEA briefing


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Emily Carver writes for Free Market Conservatives

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Annabel Denham writes for CapX

Minimum pricing had no impact on alcohol-related deaths in Scotland in the eight months after it was introduced, reveals the Institute of Economic Affairs 

  • After a prolonged campaign and series of court cases, minimum unit pricing for alcohol was introduced in Scotland in May 2018 at a level of 50p per unit.

  • A new briefing paper by Christopher Snowdon, Head of Lifestyle Economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, reveals that in the eight months immediately thereafter, alcohol-related mortality fell at the same rate in Scotland as it did in England and Wales (7 per cent).

  • Alcohol-related hospital admissions rose slightly in Scotland in 2018/19 under minimum pricing.

  • The median Scottish household (by income) spent an extra £100.88 on alcohol in the first year of minimum pricing while the median income group in England spent an extra £44.20.

  • Those on below-average incomes have been hit hardest, with those in the bottom income group increasing their expenditure on alcohol by 11 per cent.

  • Despite early evidence from Scotland suggesting minimum pricing had no impact on alcohol-related deaths and little, if any, impact on alcohol sales, it was nonetheless introduced in Wales in March 2020.


There is no evidence that minimum pricing has created a step change in the rate of alcohol-related harm in Scotland, new research from the Institute of Economic Affairs has revealed.

Authored by the IEA’s Head of Lifestyle Economics Christopher SnowdonShort term impact of minimum pricing of alcohol in Scotland’ usenew data from the Office for National Statistics and National Records of Scotland to show the monthly alcohol-related mortality figures in the eight months following the introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP).

MUP was introduced in Scotland in May 2018 at a level of 50p per unit. The aim was to reduce alcohol-related deaths by reducing alcohol consumption, particularly among heavy drinkers.

Yet the report finds that, between May and December 2018, the number of alcohol-related deaths recorded fell at the same rate in Scotland (7.3 per cent) as in England and Wales (7.1 per cent). The change in the mortality rate was remarkably similar across Britain, regardless of whether the country had MUP or not.

MUP was projected to reduce hospital admissions in Scotland by 1,299 per year. In practice, they rose slightly in 2018/19, the financial year in which minimum pricing was in effect for eleven months. There were 38,370 admissions in 2018/19, up from 38,199 in 2017/18.

Aside from shifting demand from cider to fortified wine, MUP’s effect on sales is unclear. If there has been a decline in off-trade sales, it has not been dramatic and it has not resulted in better health outcomes, at least in the short term.

The median Scottish household (by income) spent an extra £100.88 on alcohol in the first year of minimum pricing while the median income group in England spent an extra £44.20, a difference of £56.68 per annum. Those on below-average incomes have been hit hardest, with those in the bottom income group increasing their expenditure on alcohol by 11 per cent.

The IEA’s Head of Lifestyle Economics and author of the new briefing, Christopher Snowdon, said:

“We were told that the impact of minimum pricing on health outcomes would be almost immediate, but these new figures suggest that there has been no impact whatsoever.

“Rates of alcohol-related mortality in Scotland have followed the same pattern as the rest of Britain and the number of alcohol-related hospital admissions has risen. The financial cost to moderate drinkers has been much greater than predicted and low income households have been hit particularly hard.

“All in all, this is more evidence that minimum pricing has been an expensive failure.”

Notes to editors

For media enquiries please contact Emily Carver, Media Manager: 07715 942 731.

‘Short term impact of minimum pricing of alcohol in Scotland’ is available to download from the IEA website.

For further IEA reading on Minimum Unit Pricing, click here

The mission of the Institute of Economic Affairs is to improve understanding of the fundamental institutions of a free society by analysing and expounding the role of markets in solving economic and social problems.

The IEA is a registered educational charity and independent of all political parties.



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