THE first study into the impact of minimum alcohol pricing on Scotland’s homeless community is to be led by a Scottish university.

Researchers, led by scientists at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), will explore how the legislation has affected homeless drinkers since coming into force last spring.

The study will be completed in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Stirling, Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University and the University of Victoria in Canada. It is funded by the Scottish Government’s Chief Scientist Office.

In addition, it will be supported by experts from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and The Homeless Network.

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.

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GCU’s Professor Carol 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 homelessness have adapted to the higher price of alcohol such as vodka and strong white cider.

She added: “Our study will inform decisions about minimum unit pricing in Scotland and provide guidance for other countries planning to introduce the policy.”

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.

The findings of the study will help to inform the Scottish Parliament’s consideration of the policy’s impacts.

Professor Lawrie Elliot, also from GCU and who is co-leading the project with Emslie, 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.”

Earlier this summer it was revealed that the volume of alcohol sold per adult in Scotland last year fell to its lowest level on record, coinciding with the policy’s implementation.

Speaking at the time, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said of the new figures: “This is a promising start following our world-leading action to introduce minimum unit pricing, and with this 3% fall we are moving in the right direction.

“There are, on average, 22 alcohol-specific deaths every week in Scotland and 683 hospital admissions, and behind every one of these statistics is a person, a family, and a community badly affected by alcohol harm.

“Given the clear and proven link between consumption and harm, minimum unit pricing is the most effective and efficient way to tackle the cheap, high-strength alcohol that causes so much harm to so many families.”

After five years there will be an evaluation of the impacts of minimum pricing. This will reveal whether the policy has successfully slowed the growth in alcohol consumption or helped reduce consumption in the long term.