United Kingdom: Cheap Alcohol Fuels Inequalities Between England, Scotland, Wales
The BBC reports that “alcohol-linked deaths are 54% higher in Scotland” than in the rest of the United Kingdom. NHS Health Scotland reports annually about the nation’s relationship with alcohol – compiling evidence on sales, price, consumption, deaths and hospital admissions data. The report highlighted tremendous inequalities:
- Alcohol-related stays in hospital are nearly nine times higher in the 10% most-deprived areas compared to the 10% least deprived areas in 2015/16.
- Alcohol-related death rates are six times higher in the 10% most-deprived areas than in the 10% least deprived.
Cheap alcohol, high consumption, massive harm
In 2016, the equivalent of 10.5 litres of pure alcohol were sold per adult in Scotland, representing 20.2 units per adult per week. This meant enough alcohol was sold last year in Scotland for every adult to exceed the weekly guideline by 44% every week of the year.
Sales of alcohol per adult per week were 17% greater in Scotland than in England and Wales – although the rate, which had increased between 2013 and 2015, returned to a similar level as in 2013.
The alcohol-related death rate was more than twice as high in men as in women, with 30 deaths per 100,000 of the population in men compared with 13.8 deaths for women.
Over the last few years, more than half of alcohol sold in supermarkets and off-licences was sold at less than 50p per unit and enough alcohol was sold in the off-trade alone to exceed the weekly guideline by a considerable amount, explained Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell.
That is why we need minimum unit pricing, which will largely impact on the off-trade and will increase the price of the cheap, high-strength alcohol.”
The minimum unit pricing policy (MUP) had been approved for implementation by the Scottish parliament, but is delayed to due alcohol industry litigation tactics. Just in November 2016 the alcohol industry had chosen to appeal again, this time at the UK Supreme Court, against MUP in Scotland.
Alcohol is so cheap and widely available that it’s easy to forget how it can damage our health, said Alison Douglas, CEO, Alcohol Focus Scotland.
We need to introduce this long-delayed policy as soon as possible to improve Scotland’s health, cut crime and save lives.”
Some positive findings
The report also shows that the proportion of people using alcohol at harmful levels had fallen while the proportion of people abstaining from alcohol consumption had risen. Also the proportion of children and adolescents consuming alcohol in the last week has decreased. The study shows that for 13-year-olds, it dropped from 23% in 2002 to 4% in 2015, and for 15-year-olds from 46% in 2002 to 17% in 2015.
Rates of driving under the influence of alcohol have fallen consistently over time, from 21.8 per 10,000 population in 2004/05 to 10.2 per 10,000 population in 2015/16.