The implementation of Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) in Scotland on 1 May 2018 set a floor price for alcohol based on strength. Today Public Health Scotland published an analysis of alcohol price distribution data, which finds that the introduction of MUP was associated with changes in the volume of off-trade alcohol sold at different price bands in Scotland, compared to both England & Wales (where MUP did not apply in the timeframe considered) and Scotland before MUP.
Following the introduction of MUP in Scotland there was an increase in the proportion of alcohol sold above the 50 pence per unit price floor. In the 12 months following implementation almost two thirds (65.3%) of off-trade alcohol sold was categorised between 50 and 64.9 pence per unit. This was approximately double that seen in both England & Wales (33.6%) and Scotland in the year pre-MUP (31.9%).
The changes that drove this substantial increase were seen in drink categories sold at the lower end of the price distribution prior to MUP, namely beer, spirits, cider and perry. Meanwhile, increases in the higher price bands of 65p per unit and above were in line with previous years and with those increases seen in England & Wales – indicating that MUP had limited effect on the price distribution above 65p per unit.
Neither this study nor its data were designed to assess compliance with MUP amongst licenced premises in Scotland, which was found to be high in a previous study of the MUP evaluation (published in August 2019). Whilst this price distribution study found 7.5% of pure alcohol per adult sold in the off-trade in Scotland was categorised beneath 50p per unit after MUP was implemented, consultation with the data provider, Licensing Standards Officers, and academic and other experts suggested it is highly likely that the proportion of sales below the minimum unit price were substantially lower. Rather, a number of data limitations were identified which were likely to explain most of this figure. It was not possible to differentiate non-compliance from these data limitations.
Dr Karl Ferguson, Public Health Intelligence Adviser at Public Health Scotland, said:
“The price distribution of off-trade alcohol in Scotland in the year following the introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing reflected the 50 pence per unit price floor, and this was markedly different to the price distribution seen both in Scotland pre-MUP, and in England & Wales.
“Not all drink categories were affected in the same way. Those categories with a greater proportion sold in price bands beneath the 50p per unit price floor before MUP – such as beer, cider, spirits and perry – saw a considerable shift towards the 50 to 64.9p per unit price range. However, the price distribution of drink categories with a greater proportion already sold above the price floor – including wine, fortified wines and ready to drink beverages – was not noticeably affected by the introduction of MUP”.
This report is one of a number in the evaluation of MUP which provides insight into its impact on alcohol price and products. Further studies will consider changes in the characteristics of the products available in the retail and wholesale sectors (due to report in late 2021), and the effect of MUP on population alcohol consumption in the three years following its implementation (due in 2022).