#EmergencyBudget: It’s our duty to protect the NHS from alcohol related harm

With the Emergency Budget taking place on the 8th July 2015, the Alcohol Health Alliance is calling on the Government to support our NHS and ensure that the alcohol industry is able to pay a fairer share towards the cost of alcohol related harm to the British economy. Our full policy position is available here.

Alcohol places an intolerable strain on our health service. Every year, one million hospital admissions are related to alcohol,[i] and alcohol accounts for 10% of the UK burden of disease and death,[ii] making alcohol one of the three biggest lifestyle risk factors for disease and death in the UK.[iii] The last government estimated that alcohol related harm currently costs the NHS £3.7 billion every year (equal to £120 for every tax payer) and wider UK society more than £21billion[iv] – more than double the £10bn revenue generated from alcohol taxes.[v]

Simon Stevens, CEO of NHS England has called on the Government to recognise the impact that alcohol has all across the health service and to make tackling cheap alcohol an immediate priority. With our NHS reaching breaking point, we need the alcohol industry to pay a fairer share towards the cost of alcohol harm to the UK economy.

While a minimum unit price remains the most effective and targeted intervention in tackling alcohol related harm, alcohol taxes unquestionably contribute to public health today. The chief purpose of alcohol taxation is to raise revenue; however, it also has a potentially important role in reducing harmful consumption, particularly alongside a policy of minimum unit pricing. Raising the price of cheap alcohol is internationally recognised as one of the most powerful tools at a government’s disposal to address harms caused by alcohol. The World Bank, OECD, World Health Organisation and the European Commission all recommend that governments prioritise raising the price of alcohol through taxation in order to tackle the health and social consequences associated with harmful consumption.

Despite claims that the UK drinks sector is struggling, the number of licensed premises has risen year on year since 2009. Furthermore, claims about job losses in the drinks sector if taxation levels are reduced need to be balanced against the financial burden that alcohol places on employers, with alcohol related lost productivity in the workplace estimated to cost £7.3 billion each year.[vi]

In the UK, where liver disease rates have increased in some groups by up to 400% over the last decade,[vii] tackling harmful consumption must be a priority for Government. In the 2012 Alcohol Strategy, David Cameron said that the ‘responsibility of being in government isn’t always about doing the popular thing. It’s about doing the right thing’. We are calling on the Government to do the right thing and to support our NHS by ensuring the alcohol industry is able to pay a fairer share towards the cost of alcohol related harm to the British economy.

Our recommendations:

  1. Increase alcohol duty above inflation. Alcohol sold in the UK is 61% more affordable than it was in 1980.[viii] We know that price drives consumption; duty levels should continue to increase year on year to counter the trend of increasing affordability that has been associated with rising consumption and harm.
  2. Ensure spirits are taxed at a higher rate than wine and beer. In comparison to beer and wine, spirits are generally much cheaper to produce and distribute. However, due to their high strength, spirits are a particular public health concern and carry a greater risk of health and social harm than lower strength beer and wine.
  3. Increase duty on super strength white cider. Cider and beer are similar products however cider is currently taxed at a much lower rate than beer. We also know that the cheapness relative to alcohol strength makes high strength ciders such as Frosty Jacks popular with harmful and young drinkers.
  4. Lobby for change at EU level to incentivise switching to lower alcohol wine. The structure of UK alcohol taxes is governed by European Directives that mean under current structures, it is not possible to tax wine or cider based on their strength. However, changing the structure on cider duty, as outlined in point 2, to allow greater variation in tax levels, is possible.

For further information, you can read our full policy position here.



[i] HSCIC (2011) ‘Alcohol related hospital admissions top 1 million, new report shows’, available at http://www.hscic.gov.uk/article/1656/Alcohol-related-hospital-admissions-top-1-million-new-report-shows [last accessed 20/01/2015]

[ii] Balakrishnan R et al (2009): the burden of alcohol-related ill health in the United Kingdom, Journal of Public Health, Vol 31, No 3, 366-373. As cited the Department of Health’s written submission to the Health Committee (GAS 01, prepared 19th July 2012)

[iii] Government Alcohol Strategy 2012

[iv] Government Alcohol Strategy 2012

[v] Office for National Statistics, HMRC Tax & NIC receipts 2012/13, April 2014

[vi] Government’s Alcohol Strategy

[vii] Balance North East (2013) ‘Worrying rise in young people with alcohol-related liver disease’, available at http://www.balancenortheast.co.uk/latest-news/worrying-rise-in-young-people-with-alcohol-related-liver-disease [Accessed 03/02/15]

[viii] HSCIC, Statistics on Alcohol, England 2014