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Minimum Unit Prices finally come into Effect
After years of resistance from whisky producers, Nicola Sturgeon’s brainchild of minimum unit pricing has finally come into effect today, the 1st of May 2018. The new law means that each unit of alcohol must cost at least 50p, targeting the cheapest alcohol, typically bought in supermarkets and other shops. The move is hoped to reduce the negative health impacts of excessive drinking, which is a particular problem in Scotland, but some commentators worry that those with severe issues with alcohol will only be worse off as more of their money than ever goes towards alcohol.
The main targets of the law are extra strength ciders and own-brand spirits. A two litre bottle of cider cannot cost less than £5, whereas up until now one could be had for as little as £2.50. A 700ml bottle of whisky must now cost at least £14, whereas before now an own-brand bottle could be had for £11.25. The prices of the cheapest gins and vodkas have also increased. A 700ml bottle will cost at least £13.13, a couple of pounds higher than the cheapest bottles formerly retailed for.
The changes should only affect the price of alcohol bought in shops, since drinks served in bars already pass the 50p per unit threshold. More expensive drinks will not be affected either, since they also exceed the 50p per unit minimum.
Hopes for the Policy
Alcohol-related health issues in Scotland currently cost the NHS around £3.9 billion every year, and lead to 22 deaths each week. Furthermore, 80% of assault victims entering A&E had been drinking. The Scottish government predicts that the introduction of minimum unit pricing will save 58 lives in its first year alone, as well as reducing the number of hospital admissions by 1,300. Health secretary Shona Robinson has said that the new pricing system will target “hazardous and harmful drinkers”.
One criticism of the scheme is the fact that, because the policy is not a tax, retailers themselves will pocket the extra profits. Speaking of the new pricing system, Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, suggested that minimum unit pricing “will raise the cost of living for all but the very rich” instead of targeting only problem drinkers as promised.
Conversely, some institutions, including the Royal Society of Edinburgh, believe that the policy has not gone far enough, and that the minimum price per unit should be higher. In Wales, set to follow Scotland’s lead next year, the minimum price is to be 60p.
Alcohol charities have also criticised the Scottish government for not combining the new pricing policy with advertising campaigns highlighting the health risks of excessive alcohol consumption. However, retailers are being supplied with informational leaflets on the subject to distribute.
A final criticism of the policy, and perhaps the most obvious one, is the possibility that people with serious alcohol problems will simply find a way to foot the new, higher, costs. Speaking to the Guardian, Neil Martin, claimed that “It won’t make any difference to me”. He went on to explain that “When you have a drink problem, you’re going to find the money from somewhere. It doesn’t matter how much they put it up”. Neil regularly purchases the cider and fortified wine which minimum unit pricing targets. His is a sentiment echoed by a number of critics of the government’s approach.
Alcohol and Debt
With alcohol problems, unaffordable debt can be an omnipresent and very real threat. Higher alcohol prices could end up pushing problem drinkers to borrow money, in order to keep withdrawal at bay – punishing them for having a problem rather than actually encouraging them to cut back. Debt and alcohol are a particularly heady mix, as the two issues can mingle to form a vicious cycle: a person might turn to alcohol as a coping strategy in times of stress, and problem debt certainly qualifies as a significant source of anxiety. On top of this, heavy alcohol consumption can lead to sick days, which could result in lost income, pushing their finances into an even worse positon.
If you or a loved one is experiencing problems with alcohol, you can find helpful resources for coping through the charity Drink Aware. Their website contains resources for cutting back on your own drinking, as well as how to approach a loved one with an issue, and tips for keeping safe if you do decide to consume alcohol.
If debt is a persistent problem in your life, there is also plenty of help out there. Carrington Dean can advise you of the best option based on your individual circumstances. You may be eligible to write off some of your debt through a Trust Deed. For more information, you can speak to one of our friendly advisors by calling 0141 326 0400.