“I’m not as think as you drunk I am”: The story behind MUP

Minimum unit pricing – most commonly referred to as MUP- was implemented in Scotland on May the 1st 2018 and has had varied results. The act was hoping that by making it illegal to be charging less than 50p per unit of alcohol that people would be less likely to engage with harmful binge drinking due to the sudden rise in price of cheap booze.

Pubs across the country were left unaffected by the change in policy due to their drinks already being above the 50p per unit threshold, meaning it was individual drinks companies that were being affected by the law change and not the establishments that sell their products. Arguably, that fact can be seen as a positive as many critics of the act tried to use the closure of small alcohol related businesses as an argument against the act being made into law. But the question remains, how has MUP actually impacted on people’s drinking habits and alcohol sales? Alcohol Change found that in 2019 sales figures for ciders that originally were priced beneath the 50p per unit threshold’s sales have plummeted products like value white cider and amber cider were down by 74% and 54% for each product. They also reported that drinks that were priced just slightly above the 50p mark like Buckfast have seen their sales skyrocket. This shows that potentially people are not drinking less units but instead are investing in less expensive products that contain higher alcohol units in order to get more value for their money.

One of the other main aims of the act was to try put an end to underage drinking by increasing the prices in hopes that youths would not be able to afford the new price of formerly cheap and accessible booze. Browsing social media on a Thursday to Sunday shows first-hand that the act has failed to prevent underage drinking as Instagram and Snapchat begin to be flooded with posts of teens asking for “onit plans”, posting pictures of themselves with their alcohol and angry parents and community members posting pictures of broken bottles and other forms of vandalism caused as a result of teenagers’ actions. Health Scotland found that young peoples’ experiences with alcohol had remained unchanged despite the introduction of MUP, especially in terms of anti-social behaviour, sexual relationships, their health and their overall functionality. They also found that money has little to influence over underage drinking habits and instead they are more influenced by their social class, their home-life, personal struggles and their peers.

Further research into MUP by the Retail Data Partnership has found that between May 2018 and July 2018 sales of alcohol increased by 15% compared to the same period of time the previous year but that sales of popular cheap drink Frosty Jacks has fallen by 70%, once again showing that MUP has not fully achieved its goals. Market research company Nielson found that there was a 14% increase in total value purchases and a 10% increase in average alcohol prices. This shows that the data surrounding the subject is complicated and slightly contradicting and despite little success scattered around the act has done little to improve people’s drinking habits.

Majority of the success and benefits attributed to MUP are predictions based on idealistic modelling and potential outcomes based on figures that do not fully showcase the diverse nature of MUP. Arguably implementing MUP in hopes of it reducing alcohol consumption during a summer heatwave and the men’s world cup was one of the government’s weakest decision following their decision to tackle alcohol levels as majority of Scots undertook in binge drinking both legally and illegally. Overall, it is fully impossible to make an exact judgement on whether or not it has been successful as the statistics don’t accurately portray the situation of alcohol in Scotland.

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