The third Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland’s Alcohol Strategy (MESAS) annual report provides an update on Scotland’s alcohol strategy. See the full report, executive summary or BBC report.
The report includes an evaluation plan, trends in price and affordability, alcohol sales and consumption, and alcohol-related harm. New chapters reflect the evaluation of the Scottish Licensing Act and the contribution of the economic downturn to recent falls in alcohol-related harms in Scotland.
It suggests that Scotland's alcohol strategy is likely to be contributing to some aspects of the decline in levels of alcohol-related harms, but cautions that the role of economic downturn and still high levels of harm must not be overlooked. The second MESAS report last year reported on Scotland's significant attention to implementing alcohol brief intervention (ABI or 'IBA' in England), but also warned that any benefits should be considered modest compared to the total burden of alcohol-related harm in Scotland.
On the Licensing Act evaluation, the report says that although compliance has been high, significant limitations exist. For instance Licensing boards have found it difficult to measure overprovison, and addressing the public health objective has been challenging. Consequently it says, "the Licensing Act, as yet, is unlikely to have a large impact on alcohol consumption in Scotland."
With regards to alcohol consumption, there has been a downward trend, decreasing by a total of 8% between 2009 and 2012. Per adult sales in Scotland have however been 19-21% higher than in England and Wales over the past five years mostly due to higher off-trade sales in Scotland, particularly spirits. The downward trend in self-reported weekly alcohol consumption, particularly since 2008, has been driven by young adults (aged 16-24 years) and those characterised as drinking at ‘harmful’ levels.
On Price & Affordability, it states the affordability of alcohol has increased substantially since the 1980s, driven by rising disposable incomes. Despite falls between 2007 and 2011 probably due to the economic downturn, affordability remains high compared to the 1990s and early 2000s. Affordability has increased most in the off-trade. Sixty per cent of off-trade alcohol sold in Scotland in 2012 was sold at below 50 pence per unit. This compares with 81% in 2009, highlighting the importance of regularly reviewing the level at which the minimum price for alcohol is set.
On alcohol-related harms, it states although alcohol-related mortality in Scotland has declined in recent years, rates remain higher than they were in the early 1980s. On inequalities, the relative gap in alcohol-related mortality rates between the most and least deprived communities in Scotland has narrowed in the last ten years. The recent economic downturn appears to be a partial explanation for recent falls in alcohol-related mortality.
The executive summary conclusion states:
Scotland is experiencing a recent and sustained decline in alcohol-related harm across most measures but still at levels higher than one decade ago and is persistently higher than England & Wales. It is likely that some elements of Scotland’s alcohol strategy are contributing to this decline. Falling incomes in the lowest income deciles are also likely to explain part of the decline, although the analysis is not conclusive and other factors are probably also important.
However significantly affecting national levels of alcohol-related harm requires sustained, multiple approaches at national, local and individual levels. Scotland's strategy reflects an approach based on health backed evidence based policies, although yet to successfully implement minimum unit pricing (MUP).
Next year's New Directions 2014 Conference, 'Learning from Scottish Experiences' takes place in Aberdeen, exploring key themes including 'Will Independence Change Scotland’s Relationship with Alcohol?', minimum pricing and alcohol brief interventions.