A group of 35 leading health experts from the Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) are urging the Chancellor of the Exchequer to increase alcohol duty by 2% above inflation in the upcoming Spring Budget. If implemented, the group say it will help to curb the mounting death toll from alcohol, reduce pressure on the NHS and generate revenue for the economy.
The appeal to Jeremy Hunt MP follows predictions that the number of people dying from alcohol has risen to all-time high. Deaths from alcohol increased to record levels in 2021, jumping by 27.4% from 2019. Figures for 2022 are yet to be released by the Office for National Statistics, but experts forecast that the number will have sadly increased yet again.
The group argue that the relative affordability of alcohol has undoubtedly contributed to the current record-high levels of alcohol deaths across the UK. This is putting the NHS under increasing pressure, with alcohol estimated to cost the UK’s healthcare system £8.3billion every year – money that could otherwise be spent on stretched frontline services.
Reducing the affordability of alcohol is the most cost-effective way of reducing alcohol harm, according to the World Health Organization. The letter outlines that deaths from alcohol-related liver disease fell when an alcohol duty escalator – an annual 2% increase above inflation – was in place between 2008 to 2012/13. Modelling of a reinstatement of the alcohol duty escalator from 2020 until 2032 predicts it could save over 5,000 lives, prevent over 160,000 hospitalisations and save healthcare services over £800 million.
The group dispel the myth that increasing alcohol duty will damage the hospitality industry. In fact, cutting or freezing duty allows supermarkets to undercut pubs and further fuels the shift to at-home drinking. They say that draught relief and cuts to VAT on food or reduced business rates would be more beneficial to the sector.
Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said:
“Alcohol harm levels are directly linked to its affordability: the cheaper alcohol is, the more alcohol is consumed, and therefore the more harm caused. That’s why the Alcohol Health Alliance is urging the Chancellor to take action on cheap, harmful alcohol.
“Recent inflation coupled with years of cuts or freezes to alcohol duty has left alcohol relatively cheap compared to other drinks. Currently, a 2litre bottle of cider is sometimes cheaper than orange juice in supermarkets. How, in good conscious, can government allow this to continue?
“With deaths from alcohol at an all-time high, and sadly no sign of it slowing down, the government cannot afford to miss the opportunity presented at the Spring Budget to save lives, reduce pressure on the NHS and boost the economy.”
The full letter is available to read and download below.