Families want actions not words to reduce alcohol deaths

Today it was announced that there were 1,276 alcohol-related deaths in Scotland in 2022 – this is a 2% rise from the previous year. Over the past decade alone almost 11,000 people have died due to alcohol – well in excess of Scotland’s drug death toll, but with nothing like the same emergency response.

On paper, the Scottish Government has made bold commitments to act on alcohol availability, price and marketing, and to ensure everyone who needs treatment and support for their alcohol use can get this.

Yet there has been little action since the introduction of Scotland’s flagship policy on Minimum Unit Pricing which came into force in May 2018 (over five years ago), with the original legislation passed in 2012 (over a decade ago).

Whether they are living every day with their loved one’s drinking, supporting them in recovery, or mourning their loss through alcohol, families report shrinking treatment and support options, and the ongoing harm of Scotland’s Alcohol Everywhere culture. For example:

  • The delay in implementing Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) due to industry legal action, alongside the lack of any automatic uprating mechanism, has reduced the impact of this evidence-based policy. The current unit price of 50p (set over a decade ago) is now woefully outdated.
  • Families describe alcohol as being “everywhere” and “in your face, no matter where you look”, with alcohol availability and high impact marketing from coffee shops to bookshops, cinemas, workplaces, educational establishments, and community and sports events. There are almost no Alcohol Free Spaces in Scotland for families and communities to enjoy.
  • A consultation on marketing which closed almost six months ago is yet to result in any action, with the First Minister publicly sympathising with the industry’s concerns about any mandatory marketing restrictions.
  • Access to specialist alcohol treatment has fallen by 40% over the past decade (with three-quarters of this reduction pre-pandemic). Families are facing huge challenges trying to access effective alcohol treatment and support for their loved ones, leaving them isolated, exhausted and under extreme pressure to keep their loved ones alive.

We have quite rightly seen an emergency response to Scotland’s drug deaths, with a National Drugs Mission, £250 million of new investment and clear expectations of what services should be delivering.

We are calling for an equivalent response to Scotland’s alcohol emergency including;

  • An equal financial investment to ensure a choice of high quality specialist alcohol treatment, care and support services for anyone concerned about their drinking, and their families, no matter where they live in Scotland;
  • An uprating of the Minumum Unit Price to at least 65p, with a future uprating mechanism built in;
  • Clear action on alcohol availability and marketing, to ensure Alcohol Free Spaces are the norm and individuals and families are protected from industry’s ‘Everyday Alcohol’ pressures.

Justina Murray, CEO of Scottish Families, said:

“In Scotland we are absolutely world-leading at writing down all the things we are going to change and improve to tackle Scotland’s deathly relationship with alcohol. But we are bottom of the league tables for action. There is an enormous gap between our bold intent to save thousands of families from further heartbreak and the daily reality of lives destroyed by alcohol right across Scotland.

We need urgent and immediate action – not more words – to change Scotland’s Alcohol Everywhere culture, and to make sure everyone concerned about their drinking can get the treatment and support they need.

Alcohol deaths are easy to prevent – the World Health Organisation has identified three ‘best buys’ for governments in terms of alcohol availability, price and marketing. Alongside investment in good quality alcohol treatment and support, this will save millions of pounds in social, economic, health and human costs.

Our families deserve nothing less.”

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