Find us on Facebook

alcohol health alliance uk

MUP did not lead to cross border purchasing - study

Sue Taylor

Sue Taylor, Head of Alcohol Policy for Fresh and Balance

Posted 10/03/22

Raising the price of the cheapest, strongest alcohol in Scotland to protect health did not lead to large numbers of over-the-border booze runs into England, new evidence suggests.

Balance says there is strong evidence that minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol works as a policy and is needed for England and especially the North East, which saw the highest rates of alcohol-related deaths during Covid.

The study by Public Health Scotland (PHS) examined the extent to which people might be travelling outside Scotland to buy alcohol at a lower price, since the introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) in Scotland. At the time some critics claimed it would drive drinkers to bulk buy over the border in England. However:

Interviews with retailers indicated that although households in close proximity to the border made most use of cross-border purchasing, these reflecting established shopping habits. None of the retailers had knowledge of people from Scotland appearing to travel to England to buy large quantities of alcohol. Analysis shows that substantial bulk purchasing would be needed for individuals to make significant savings whether purchasing in-person or online, once travel and delivery costs are taken into account.

The research also shows that licensing near the border did not display a shift from Scotland to England following the introduction of MUP legislation. Analysis of off-trade alcohol sales data in the combined areas of North East and North West England in the 12 months following implementation of MUP showed a small increase (1.14%). When a panel of over 1,000 Scottish adults was asked whether they have travelled to another part of the UK for the sole purpose of buying alcohol, only 3% responded that they had done so.

This also follows previous research from Newcastle University and published in the Lancet that found alcohol sales fell by almost 8% after the policy was introduced in Scotland in 2018.

Sue Taylor, Head of Alcohol Policy for Balance said: “When this was introduced in Scotland in 2018 there were claims that drinkers would bypass shops, but this does not appear to have happened. People were not travelling in any great numbers to buy cheaper alcohol elsewhere.

“Evidence already shows that MUP has already reduced consumption among the heaviest drinkers in Scotland and it is an effective policy at targeting those most at risk from alcohol harm.

“The North of England sees the worst harms in the country from alcohol. Heavier drinkers and poorer households in the North were more likely to increase alcohol buying during the pandemic, and 2020 was a record year for alcohol deaths.

“We urgently need action on alcohol to tackle price, promotion and availability as our nation and our region starts to recover from Covid.”

Scotland became the first country in the world to bring in minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol in May 2018, currently fixed at 50p per unit.

Helen Chung Patterson, Public Health Intelligence Adviser at Public Health Scotland said: “The research published today shows that while cross-border purchasing does happen, the extent is small relative to the purchasing behaviours of Scotland’s population as a whole.

“A key strength of this report is that it enables us to build up a picture of cross-border alcohol-purchasing behaviours from several perspectives. We have examined data on retail sales and alcohol licencing near the border, drawn on qualitative interviews with retailers, gathered customer survey data and explored the factors affecting in-person and online cross-border purchases. When several different methods produce broadly similar results, as is the case with the report published today, this increases confidence in the findings.”

Further evidence may arise on cross-border purchasing at a later date (both from within and out-with Public Health Scotland’s portfolio on MUP evaluation), for example as part of the study on Drinking at Harmful Levels, which is due to be published by PHS later this year.