From October, Scottish consumers will face a 30% increase in the minimum price for alcohol, with the minimum unit price (MUP) rising from 50p to 65p.
Deputy First Minister Shona Robison confirmed the change, aiming to keep pace with inflation and maintain relatively high prices for alcoholic beverages. As a result, a basic bottle of whisky will increase from £14 to £18.20, a can of lager will cost at least £1.30, and a standard bottle of vodka will be £17.06.
Robison, addressing concerns about alcohol-related harm, highlighted that such issues persist in Scotland, contributing to deteriorating health outcomes, particularly in deprived areas. Alcohol-related death rates have risen in recent years, partly due to increased consumption during the Covid crisis.
Despite the government already spending £112 million annually on alcohol and drug treatment units, ministers are considering a new public health tax on shops to reclaim excess profits resulting from MUP.
Retailers have reportedly earned approximately £30 million annually from MUP as they retain the difference between the higher price paid for drinks and the wholesale price of the product.
The Fraser of Allander Institute at Strathclyde University estimates these earnings. Scottish Labour and public health charities argue for a levy, with proceeds dedicated to alcohol treatment and recovery projects.
Consultations involving businesses and health experts are underway, with a decision expected before the Scottish budget later this year. Previously, Scotland had a public health levy on large retailers between 2012 and 2015, generating £95 million.
Despite criticism from the Scottish Retail Consortium, which called the potential levy “unevidenced and unreasonable,” Robison defended the increase against Conservative arguments that it unjustly penalizes ordinary consumers during a cost of living crisis.
She cited expert analysis suggesting that minimum pricing has reduced the annual death rate from alcohol misuse by 13.4%, compared to the likely death rate without MUP. The ongoing debate raises questions about balancing public health initiatives with potential impacts on industry and consumers.