North East mum’s plea for action on cheap alcohol following Minimum Unit Price (MUP) success over the border
- Joanne Good tragically lost her 16-year-old daughter Megan on New Year’s Day 2014. She died after drinking cheap white cider at a NYE party.
- New research published today (27 June) shows Minimum Unit Price (MUP) in Scotland has cut drinking as well as deaths and hospital admissions from alcohol.
- North East England suffers the worst alcohol harms in England.
A North East mum is joining forces with Balance, the North East alcohol programme, to call for urgent policy reform in England, as new data released shows the effectiveness of minimum unit pricing (MUP) on alcohol in Scotland.
The call comes after a report released today from Public Health Scotland that found MUP reduced drinking and cut alcohol deaths and hospital admissions in the first three years it was introduced. The public health body has recommended Scotland retain the policy when it is up for renewal in April 2024.
According to the research, MUP reduced alcohol consumption in Scotland by 3%, reduced deaths directly caused by alcohol consumption by an estimated 13.4% and hospital admissions by 4.1% – with the largest reductions seen in men and people living in the most deprived areas. This equates to 268 lives saved each year in Scotland on average[i] and 899 hospital admissions averted each year.[ii]
In the UK it is still possible to buy a 2.5l bottle of 5% cider with nearly a week’s worth of alcohol units for less than £3.50.
Despite objections from the alcohol industry there have been no significant negative impacts on alcohol producers or sellers as a result of MUP.[iii]
Joanne Good, 44, from Dudley, North Tyneside, tragically lost her 16-year-old daughter Megan on New Year’s Day 2014, after she had attended a friend’s party the night before and drunk strong white cider.
Cheap alcohol has devastated Joanne’s family and its impact is felt across the North East, which is the region with the most to gain from the introduction of MUP and other evidence-based measures to reduce alcohol harms.
The North East is the region closest to Scotland and suffers from the worst alcohol harms in the country – closer in scale of harms to Scotland than England:
- The region has the highest rates of alcohol deaths and alcohol-related hospital admissions, along with the significant toll alcohol places on the workplace, crime and health inequalities.
- 47% of adults in the NE and 6/10 men drink above the Chief Medical Officer’s low risk guidelines of 14 units per week.
Alongside Balance, Joanne is calling on the government in England to follow Scotland’s lead and introduce evidence-based measures which stop the sale of cheap alcohol and which reduce its affordability, promotion and availability.
Joanne Good said: “I know the impact cheap, strong alcohol can have on people’s lives, because it has devastated ours. Alcohol is too cheap and far too often ends up in the hands of children because it can be bought from their pocket money. A 2 litre bottle of cider is cheaper than orange juice in some supermarkets, how is that acceptable?
“After the report from Scotland today, our government must consider increasing the price of cheap alcohol to help protect the young and vulnerable; it will save another family from having to go through what we have been through.”
The World Health Organisation recommends Minimum Unit Pricing as one of the most effective and cost effective public health measures available to reduce alcohol harm. MUP is linked to the alcohol content of a drink and so helps targets low-cost, high-strength alcohol most strongly associated with high levels harmful drinking.
Scotland introduced MUP in 2018 and Wales introduced the policy in 2020.
University of Sheffield modelling found that the North of England would benefit most from MUP and that almost half of the deaths and hospital admissions prevented in England would be in the North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber.
For example, implementing a 50p minimum unit price (the level currently in place in Scotland) in the North East could prevent 1,970 deaths in the next 20 years, reduce hospital admissions by 3,255 per year, save the NHS £8,410,000 a year, and decrease alcohol-related crimes by 4,480 per year. Increasing the level of MUP would bring even more significant gains.
Balance is calling for the government to carry out an independent review of alcohol harm and introduce evidence-based measures including a minimum unit price on alcohol.
Sue Taylor, Head of Alcohol Policy at Fresh and Balance, commented: “The North East has the highest rates of alcohol-related deaths, hospital admissions, and health inequalities in England.
“Scotland is making clear progress in tackling alcohol harm while just over the border, regions like the North East are left behind to suffer the worst harms and alcohol is still being sold at pocket money prices.
“The government needs to act urgently to protect vulnerable people and act on the price, promotion and availability of alcohol to reduce the harms of alcohol in the North East. No one single policy is a silver bullet, but we owe it to families like Joanne’s and communities, to listen to the evidence and take action.”
Alice Wiseman, Director of Public Health for Gateshead and ADPH Alcohol Policy Lead, said: “This research provides the most detailed picture yet of the benefits MUP could have in England and especially the North East.
“Risky drinkers in England consume most of the alcohol sold and evidence shows a strong link between consumption and affordability. A measure like MUP has the biggest impact on the heaviest drinkers, while leaving the average moderate drinker virtually untouched.
“It would play an important role in reducing health inequalities, including by closing the health gap between the North and South. This is a measure which would be extremely effective, especially if it was introduced in tandem with other evidence-based policies to prevent and reduce alcohol harms. The time for action at a national level is long overdue.”
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Liver specialist and Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance said: “The evaluation of Minimum Unit Pricing in Scotland clearly shows that the policy is working as intended. It’s saving lives and reducing hospital admissions – the benefits of which will span well beyond the individuals protected.
“Cheap, high strength alcohol encourages excessive drinking and causes substantial harm. Because of its affordability, this is the type of alcohol that children and young people often consume, putting them at significant risk. Minimum Unit Pricing works to reduce that by pricing cheap white ciders and the like off the shelves.”
“The evidence is here, let’s join the other forward-thinking countries who’ve taken this proactive approach to tackling the harm caused by cheap, strong alcohol.”
He continues: “Alcohol in England however is still being sold at pocket money prices and alcohol related deaths have reached record highs. The evidence from Scotland today presents a significant opportunity for Westminster to act on its promise to review MUP in England. The data is here, let’s join the other forward-thinking countries who’ve taken this proactive approach to tackling the harm caused by cheap, strong alcohol.”
 The figure of 268 lives saved per year has been calculated by adding together the estimates for both wholly and partially attributable death estimates contained in the below paper. Similarly, the figure of 899 hospital admissions averted per year has been calculated by adding together the estimates for both wholly and partially attributable hospital admissions. Wyper, G.M.A. et al. (2023). Evaluating the impact of alcohol minimum unit pricing (MUP) on alcohol-attributable deaths and hospital admissions in Scotland. Public Health Scotland.
[i] Wyper, G.M.A. et al. (2023). Evaluating the impact of alcohol minimum unit pricing (MUP) on alcohol- attributable deaths and hospital admissions in Scotland. Public Health Scotland.
[ii] Wyper, G.M.A. et al. (2023). Evaluating the impact of alcohol minimum unit pricing (MUP) on alcohol- attributable deaths and hospital admissions in Scotland. Public Health Scotland.
[iii] 4 Dickie, E., Mellor, R., Myers, F. & Beeston, C. (2019). Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) for alcohol evaluation: Compliance (licensing) study. Edinburgh: NHS Health Scotland. Available at: http://www.healthscotland.scot/media/2660/minimum-unit-pricing-foralcohol-evaluation-compliance-study-english-july2019.pdf