Majority of public support higher alcohol taxes to help fund public services

 24 October 2018: New figures reveal that just over half (52%) of people support increasing alcohol taxes if the money raised went into funding public services impacted by alcohol use, such as the NHS and police.

The survey also showed that less than a fifth (19%) of people would oppose such a measure.

The recent online survey, conducted by the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, comes as leading voices in the alcohol recovery and public health sector are calling on the government to increase alcohol duty by 2% above inflation ahead of the Autumn Budget.

With the promise of an additional £20 billion for the NHS, the government needs to find new streams of revenue. Reports over the summer suggested that the government was considering increases to alcohol and fuel duty to help pay for this. However, following significant pressure to abandon these proposals, Theresa May announced earlier this month that fuel duty would remain frozen; making it even more urgent to find a way to finance the commitment to the NHS.

The new polling indicates that the government would have the support of the public to press ahead with an increase in alcohol duty to help fund the NHS. While such a move would increase the revenue for the Treasury, it would have the double effect of also reducing demand and costs on the NHS.

Alcohol puts considerable pressure on the NHS with more than a million alcohol-related hospital admissions and thousands of alcohol-related deaths every year. Increasing alcohol duty above inflation for five successive years would prevent more than 600 alcohol-related deaths every year. 

Successive cuts in alcohol duty since 2013 have cost the government £4 billion in lost revenue – equivalent to the salaries of almost 40,000 GPs or more than 120,000 social workers.

Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said: With our public services overstretched already, we can’t afford for alcohol to get any cheaper. Increasing alcohol duty will help to curb the pressure on the NHS, while creating additional revenue for the government. This survey shows that the majority of the public support an increase in alcohol duty if the money raised is spent on services impacted by alcohol use, such as the NHS.”

A separate survey carried out in the North East of England recently showed that publicans see no benefit to their businesses from alcohol duty cuts and that they need measures which help them compete with supermarkets.

Landlord Ian McNaughton, of The Falcon Inn in North Yorkshire, believes cheap supermarket alcohol is a cause for the closure of pubs, especially in rural areas.

He said: “I think that cuts in alcohol duty only benefit supermarkets. We are led to believe that this is a measure that helps pubs and landlords such as myself, but it is putting us at a greater disadvantage and enabling supermarkets to capitalise on cheaper alcohol to attract customers and drive their profit.”