House of Commons Library

Alcohol: minimum pricing

Published Monday, April 24, 2017

This Library Briefing Paper looks at alcohol pricing and calls for a minimum unit price.

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The debate about a minimum price for alcohol has been prompted by concerns about high levels of drinking, its effect on public health and public order, and a widespread belief that most of the alcohol which contributes to drunken behaviour is irresponsibly priced and sold.

One policy option is to set a minimum price per unit of alcohol (MUP). Another is to ban the sale of alcohol below cost price (the level of alcohol duty plus VAT). 

Policy in Scotland

Alcohol licensing is a devolved matter. In June 2012 the Scottish Government passed legislation that would enable it to introduce MUP in Scotland. An intended price of 50p per unit has not yet been implemented as the Scottish Whisky Association is challenging the legislation in the European and Scottish courts.

Policy in England and Wales

The Government has said that MUP “remains under review, pending the outcome of the legal case between the Scotch Whisky Association and the Scottish Government and the impact of the implementation of this policy in Scotland.”

The Coalition Government introduced a ban on the sale of alchol below cost price from May 2014. This followed it's decision not to go ahead with the alcohol strategy (March 2012) commitment to introduce MUP. After consulting on the strategy, the then Government said there was not enough “concrete evidence” that MUP would be effective in reducing the harms associated with problem drinking without penalising responsible drinkers.

Alcohol charities (e.g. Alcohol Concern) and public health groups continue to argue for MUP, claiming that this would have more of an impact on alcohol-related harm than the ban on below cost selling.

A December 2016 report by Public Health England looked at MUP and said that “empirical evidence and modelling studies have shown that setting a minimum price for alcohol can reduce alcohol-related harm while saving health-care costs.”

An April 2017 House of Lords Committee report on the Licensing Act 2003 recommended that if MUP was introduced in Scotland and found to be effective in reducing excessive drinking, then the policy should also be introduced in England and Wales.


Commons Briefing papers SN05021

Author: John Woodhouse

Topic: Licensing

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