Does minimum unit pricing affect all alcohol? The biggest alcohol policy myths busted

different bottles of alcohol

1 | Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) unfairly hits moderate drinkers 

Under a 50p MUP, moderate drinkers will hardly notice the difference, spending just £2.50 extra per year on alcohol. Research from Scotland, following MUP’s introduction there in 2018, found that the vast majority of change in consumption is from the 20% of households that were purchasing the most alcohol.

2 | Heavy drinkers don’t respond to price changes

Heavy drinkers are those who consume more than 14 units of alcohol a week but aren’t dependent drinkers i.e. a person with an excessive desire to drink. Heavy drinkers therefore do respond to price changes on the whole. Under a 50p MUP, heavy drinkers are expected to reduce their consumption by as many as 425 units per year, depending on their income. That’s equal to 45 bottles of wine or nearly 200 pints of beer. 

3 | Minimum unit pricing will push people dependent on alcohol to drugs, illicit alcohol and crime

Dependent drinkers are a complex group so generalisations can’t be made. In addition, much of the harm caused by alcohol is not experienced by dependent drinkers, and MUP will be a key measure in preventing future lives being ruined by addiction to alcohol. However, whilst not unequivocal, previous studies have not found a clear link between increases in alcohol prices and illicit drug use. MUP has broad support amongst organisations who provide services to those with alcohol and other substance abuse problems, with backing from Humankind and Action on Addiction.

4 | There is no clear relationship between the price of alcohol and consumption

The relationship between the affordability of alcohol and levels of consumption is clear: every time we walk into a supermarket, we recognise that a product’s price influences whether and how much we buy – and the same applies to alcohol. Both Government analysis and the alcohol industry supports and recognises alcohol consumption being price sensitive.

5 | Minimum Unit Pricing hits the poorest hardest

People on lower incomes are less likely to drink, so moderate drinkers from lower income groups are barely affected by MUP. The heaviest drinkers from low income groups are affected and are expected to reduce their consumption substantially. This is also the group suffering the highest levels of harm caused by alcohol at the moment. Therefore, to reduce harm without penalising moderate drinkers, this is precisely the group the policies need to target. As an additional benefit - addressing the alcohol consumption of heavy drinkers from more deprived groups is likely to contribute to a reduction in health inequalities between the most and least affluent in society.

Read more about Minimum Unit Pricing

Further information

Colin Angus

Colin Angus, Twitter

University of Sheffield Alcohol Research Group

Key research

Model-based appraisal of the comparative impact of Minimum Unit Pricing and taxation policies in Scotland

Effects of minimum unit pricing for alcohol on different income and socioeconomic groups: a modelling study

Estimated Effects of Different Alcohol Taxation and Price Policies on Health Inequalities: A Mathematical Modelling Study

For further information contact:

Amy Pullan
Media Relations Officer
University of Sheffield
+44 114 222 9859

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