Scientists at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) are leading the first study into the impact of minimum unit pricing for alcohol on homeless drinkers.
They will be working with researchers from the University of Victoria in Canada, University of Stirling, Heriot-Watt University, and experts from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and The Homeless Network.
The study will explore homeless people and street drinkers’ experiences of minimum unit pricing, as well as talking to organisations which provide support to homeless people.
Alcohol minimum unit pricing (MUP) is a high-profile Scottish Government policy which requires all licensed premises to set a floor price of 50 pence per unit of alcohol, below which alcohol cannot be sold. It is designed to target the heaviest drinkers who buy most of the cheapest, strongest alcohol.
Researchers say that while worldwide evidence suggests the legislation will be effective for the general population, there has never been a study into the impact on the most vulnerable in our communities such as homeless people in Scotland.
The findings of this important study will help to inform the Scottish Parliament’s consideration of the impacts of this flagship alcohol policy.
The study is led by Professor Carol Emslie and Professor Lawrie Elliott with the help of Dr Elena Dimova, Dr Martin Whiteford and Ilyas Ahmed, all from GCU’s Substance Use & Misuse research group.
Grantholders include Professor Anne Whittaker (University of Stirling), Professor Sarah Johnsen (Heriot Watt University), Dr Iain Smith (NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde), Professor Tim Stockwell (Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, University of Victoria), Robert Rush, and partners at The Homeless Network. It is funded by the Scottish Government’s Chief Scientist Office.
Professor Emslie said: “Scotland is the first country in the world to implement alcohol minimum unit pricing. We need to explore the potential benefits of this policy for homeless people but we also need to understand any potential negative consequences.
“We do not know how vulnerable groups such as people experiencing homeless have adapted to the higher price of alcohol such as vodka and strong white cider. Our study will inform decisions about minimum unit pricing in Scotland and provide guidance for other countries planning to introduce the policy”.
Co-lead of the project, Professor Elliott, added: “You might think MUP would affect homeless people and street drinkers the most, given they represent the poorest groups in society and tend to consume cheap alcohol.
“However, we don’t know this, nor do we know about any unintended consequences of the legislation for example switching to illicit alcohol or drugs. We are extremely pleased to be working with our partners The Homeless Network and grateful for the funding provided by the Chief Scientist Office.”
NHS Health Scotland leads a broad Minimum Unit Pricing evaluation programme, commissioned by the Scottish Government (http://www.healthscotland.scot/health-topics/alcohol/evaluation-of-minimum-unit-pricing-mup). The MUP and Homelessness study described here is complementary to the NHS Health Scotland programme.