IEA - Alcohol pricing has cost Scots 270 million, finds new research

From: Think Tanks
Published: Tue May 03 2022

Over four years, Minimum Unit Pricing has cost the equivalent of 59.39 per adult or 71.12 per drinker, reveals new analysis

  • Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) was introduced in Scotland on 1 May 2018 at 50p per unit to prevent the sale of cheap' drinks, with the aim of reducing alcohol-related harm.
  • Over the four years of implementation, MUP is estimated to have cost Scottish consumers 270m - significantly more than the 76m projected in models prior to implementation.
  • There is little evidence the policy has delivered the expected health and social benefits. Most indicators related to alcohol-related health, crime and employment have remained similar or worsened since MUP was implemented.
  • The cost to consumers is not collected as tax, but mostly accrues as additional revenue to suppliers of alcohol - which seems counterproductive to the Scottish government's aims.

On the four-year anniversary of MUP, new research from the Institute of Economic Affairs, authored by Christopher Snowdon, John C. Duffy and Mark Tovey, reveals the policy will cost Scottish consumers 270m - over three times what was predicted.

This is equivalent to 71.12 per drinker or 59.39 per adult. The policy was primarily justified on the basis of computer modelling from a team at Sheffield University, the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model (SAPM). The models projected improvements in various health and social outcomes. Public Health Scotland has not yet published an estimate of MUP's cost to consumers.

The stated aim of the policy was to reduce alcohol-related harms, including death, crime and unemployment, by raising the price of the cheap, off-trade alcohol, i.e. alcohol purchased from retail outlets rather than hospitality, that is often associated with harmful drinking.

Lacking the power to raise alcohol duty itself, the Scottish government used MUP to drive up prices and lower consumption. It assumed a reduction in alcohol-related harms would follow.

But there is little to no evidence that the introduction of a minimum unit price in Scotland has had a positive impact on employment, crime and health as Sheffield modelled. Most of the indicators seem to have stayed the same or worsened since the introduction of MUP.

The projected impacts of the policy were so small it would be difficult to identify them in aggregate data. This raises the question of whether the projected benefits were ever enough to justify the projected cost - let alone the 270m the authors now estimate.

Co-author of the report, IEA Head of Lifestyle Economics Christopher Snowdon, said:

Our estimate suggests that minimum pricing has cost Scottish drinkers more than a quarter of a billion pounds. Now in its fifth year, minimum pricing is a reminder that politicians are often responsible for the rising cost of living.

Although alcohol consumption has fallen slightly in Scotland, we find no evidence that this has led to an improvement in health outcomes. Consumers have simply switched from the most affordable alcohol to mid-range brands, to the benefit of alcohol producers and retailers. The policy could be dropped tomorrow without costing the government a penny.

Notes to editors

Contact: Emily Carver, Head of Media, 07715 942 731,

IEA spokespeople are available for interview and further comment.

The Hangover: The cost of minimum alcohol pricing in Scotland' can be found 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.

Company: Think Tanks

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