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How big rise in price of alcohol will penalise poorest Scots

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Ministers rushing to increase the price of alcohol risk penalising the poorest Scots after ignoring serious questions about the controversial policy, according to GMB Scotland.

The biggest union in the drinks industry said a fast-changing series of ministers has failed to address legitimate concerns around the proposed increase and been too quick to accept the untested assurances of advisors and lobby groups.

David Hume, GMB Scotland organiser in the drinks industry, said the union has now written to two ministers for alcohol policy asking them to justify the economic reasons for increasing MUP from 50 pence to 65 pence but had no reply.

He said the Scottish Government only confirmed it was pressing ahead with the increase last month adding: “This is a huge change to a contentious policy and our MSPs should be wary of making hasty decisions with unintended consequences.

“We are not asking a hard question and, before voting on such a rise, MSPs should be asking it too.

“How are ministers justifying such a huge rise in MUP at a time when Scots are enduring a cost of living crisis?

“How can ministers say it is needed to match inflation when wages of Scots have stagnated for five years and their real spending power has stalled?

“We have had three ministers in charge of this policy in two years and it begs the question, if they do not know how to justify this increase, who are they listening to?”.

He said MSPs voting on a proposal raise the Minimum Unit Price (MUP) of alcohol by 30% today cannot rely on the Scottish Government’s claims that the increase is needed to match inflation.

Hume added: “Analysis suggest Scots’ spending power, when adjusted for inflation, has risen by just one per cent in the five years since the introduction of MUP.

“Given that, a 30 per cent increase seems not only disproportionate but punitive with, as usual, the harshest punishment inflicted on the lowest earners.

“MUP is another ‘world leading’ policy from the Scottish Government but it would not be the first to be launched without proper discussion trailing unintended consequences in its wake."

MSPs on the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee will be voting on whether to continue MUP, launched five years ago to raise the price of alcohol in a bid to protect problem drinkers, and whether to increase it.

GMB Scotland said if MUP is supported then MSPs should pause the increase to allow collection and scrutiny of reliable data and to examine, in particular, how the policy is impacting Scotland’s poorest postcodes and its potential effect on one of Scotland’s most important industries.

Research suggests Scots risking their health with drink will skimp on heat and food to continue buying alcohol and the union warns the brunt of the impact will be on the poorest Scots most likely to drink cheaper drinks.

Hume has written to Christina McKelvie, the new minister for alcohol policy, urging the Scottish Government to postpone the proposed increase for further consultation.

In February, the Scottish Government announced the MUP – the minimum price retailers can charge per unit of alcohol – would increase by 15 pence adding pounds to the price of many bottles.

GMB Scotland says the increase is not justified or reasonable, however, and warned MUP should remain at the same level to avoid penalising poorer Scots and responsible drinkers while risking damaging an industry crucial to the Scots economy.

In his letter to the minister, Hume asks for an urgent meeting to address members’ concerns adding: “It is GMB Scotland’s view that MUP should not rise above 50 pence.

“This will allow MUP to continue to have the same effectiveness as it currently does due to stagnating wages, and prevent needless damage to the industry and our members’ jobs and incomes at a time when households and businesses are under increasing financial pressure.”