Experts query minimum alcohol price concerns

Minimum alcohol unit price advocates cast doubt on recent warnings that low-level drinkers would bear the brunt of Scotland’s plan to introduce the scheme next May.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said last week it may be “better to reform duties and not have a minimum price at all”. It estimated a 50p minimum would increase the price of around 70% of off-trade alcohol units purchased, unfairly impacting low-level drinkers.

But these calculations have some shortcomings, says John Holmes of the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group, which forecast the impact of Scotland’s scheme. These mean the IFS has over-estimated the cost to people who do not overdo it.

Most importantly the IFS figures to not recognise alcohol consumption is heavily skewed towards heavy drinkers, says Holmes. The one-in-four people in Scotland who exceed the old, looser guidelines together drink around three-quarters of the alcohol.

This top-loaded consumption pattern means it is heavy drinkers who purchase the vast majority of units, and an even greater proportion of units bought for under 50p. This means it is heavy drinkers who will feel the pinch as the result of heavy consumption under minimum pricing, as the scheme intends.

And, to add to this, the number of units bought in Scotland for under 50p is probably not the 70% of the total the IFS estimates, but more like 50%, Holmes says. This “more robust”percentage comes from sales data rather than the self-reports relied on by the IFS statistic.

Another point worth considering, according to another commentator, is that raising taxes on some categories of alcoholic drinks favoured by heavy drinkers instead, as recommended by IFS, would also have an unwelcome impact on some low-level drinkers. ■