The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), an economics consultancy, agrees with those who say the 50p level, which the government proposed ahead of a five-year legal battle with the whisky industry, is now out of date. But it also argues that the measure in its proposed form would have a disproportionate impact on poorer people and that a banded approach which varies the MUP depending on how strong the drink is would be more effective in curbing excessive alcohol consumption.
Under its proposed amendment MUP would start as low as 30p for weak drinks with 1.2%-2.8% alcohol by volume, rising to 40p for 2.9%-5.5%; 50p for 5.6%-10%; and 60p for 11%-20% and for 21%-40%.
Buckfast, which has an alcohol content of 15% and is regarded by some as a problem drink in Scotland, would not be impacted by the government’s planned flat 50p MUP. Currently retailing at about £6.89 a bottle, it would only be subject to a price floor of about £5.63.
In contrast, the CEBR proposal — in a report funded by multinational brewer Molson Coors — would see Buckfast subject to a higher MUP of 60p than would apply to weaker products such as regular beer. It would mean the MUP would at least set a floor for Buckfast at something approaching the current price.
In its submission to the Scottish government, CEBR states: “The banded MUP system would force a trade-off for the harmful drinker by putting a premium on getting drunk fast.
“The drinker would have to choose between paying higher prices for higher-strength products that will get him or her drunk quicker, or lower-strength products that fit better within their budget constraint but that will increase the time and effort it takes to achieve inebriation (in terms of the higher volume of alcoholic beverage that it is necessary to consume).”
It suggests that a banded MUP system could reduce alcohol consumption among hazardous drinkers in poverty by an additional 33-34 units per annum, and among harmful drinkers in poverty by an additional 84-85 units per year.
Oliver Hogan, the CEBR chief economist and principal author of the report, added: “A 50p MUP for all alcohol doesn’t distinguish between weak beverages and the high-strength drinks that are the problem. By setting different levels of MUP according to the alcohol strength of the drink, the policy is better targeted than a flat 50p, more effective, and less disproportionately burdensome on the poorest households.”
A Scottish government spokesman said: “A minimum price of 50p per unit provides a proportionate response to tackling alcohol misuse, striking a balance between public health and social benefits, and intervention in the market.”
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