In November 2017, following a long legal process, the UK’s Supreme Court ruled that introducing Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) for alcohol, as the Scottish Government had been attempting to do for five years, did not breach EU law. Today, MUP comes into effect.
The links between alcohol consumption and harm are well known. Research by Alcohol Focus Scotland suggested that it was possible to buy 14 units of alcohol - the maximum recommended weekly intake of alcohol - for just £2.52. By ending sales of cheap alcohol, like super-strength vodkas, ciders and lagers in supermarkets and off-licences, champions of this policy hope to have the most impact on harmful drinkers, without affecting those drinking moderately in pubs and restaurants.
We asked people if they agree with MUP as part of our British Social Attitudes survey and found that a small majority, 52% of the country (50% of Scotland) support the principle. Significantly, but unsurprisingly, a person’s attitudes to MUP correlate with the amount of alcohol they drink. Those who drink the most are significantly less likely to support MUP than other people. Less than one-third in this group, 32%, support the idea, compared with over half, 53%, of ‘lower-risk drinkers’ and 61% of non-drinkers. The people at whom the policy is targeted and who should benefit the most from it are the least likely to support it.
Our results suggest that supporters of the new legislation will need to convince people that it is going to work in the way campaigners hope. Even though half of Scotland is in favour of MUP, 58% think it would be unfair to sensible drinkers, even though the policy shouldn’t affect this group. Moreover, people aren’t convinced that MUP would be effective in reducing heavy drinking. Just over one-third, 35%, think that MUP would reduce this type of harmful drinking.
Public health advocates may still have a job to do in convincing the sceptics, although it may be that scepticism will turn to support, as it did with the ban on smoking in enclosed public places.