We’re campaigning for a fairer and healthier alcohol duty system.
What is alcohol duty and how does it work now?
Alcohol duty (or tax) is included in the price you pay for alcohol. This generates revenue for the government.
The current alcohol duty structure is complex and inconsistent. Beer and spirits are taxed by volume of alcohol, whereas cider and wine are taxed by volume of liquid. This means that tax on a litre of 8% ABV wine is the same amount of tax as a litre of 15% ABV wine – despite containing very different amounts of alcohol.
This duty system encourages the production of cheap, high-strength products like cider, as these products pay so little duty. These products are then primarily consumed by heavy and vulnerable drinkers.
Responsibility for alcohol duty is reserved, which means that the UK Government sets duty rates for every nation within the UK.
Alcohol is a powerful depressant, sedative and addictive drug. When under its influence, people do things that they wouldn’t do while sober and may cause themselves or others significant harm.
I therefore believe it is the responsibility of wider society to do what we can to protect young and vulnerable people from harm. Reducing the availability of cheap, strong alcohol is an important step towards this.
— Doctor Adam Collins
Why is alcohol duty important when it comes to tackling alcohol harm?
If implemented well, alcohol duty can be used as a way to reduce alcohol harm. The World Health Organization has identified alcohol duty as being one of the most effective ways of tackling alcohol-related harm.
Despite this, since 2012 alcohol duty has been cut or frozen every year in the Budget. This has had a huge impact on revenue. Treasury estimates indicate that it has lost around £1.8 billion in revenue every year due to duty changes since 2012 – this lost revenue could have paid for 59,000 nurses.
I believe that if I hadn’t been able to access that cheap cider, I may have gone into treatment sooner and got myself well.Steven, Expert by experience, Commission on Alcohol Harm Report
Why does the alcohol duty system need to change?
Alcohol duty is currently too low to account for the price that society pays for alcohol harm. Public Health England estimates that alcohol costs the UK at least £27 billion a year. Over the past five years, alcohol duty has raised just £10.5-£12.1 billion annually. This is simply not enough to cover the cost of the damage alcohol causes.
Researchers from the University of Sheffield found that cuts to alcohol duty since 2012 have led to:
- 1,969 additional deaths
- 61,386 additional hospitalisations
- £317 million in additional costs to the NHS
- 111,062 additional criminal offences
- 484,727 additional days of workplace sickness absence
What is the Alcohol Health Alliance UK campaigning for?
We’re calling on the UK Government to:
- Create an alcohol duty system that is:
- Proportionate: the overall level of alcohol duty should cover to the cost of alcohol to society
- Consistent: same strength drinks should pay the same level of tax
- Scaled: stronger drinks should pay more tax, per unit alcohol, than weaker drinks
- Uprated: alcohol duty should automatically increase in line with inflation or earnings. A body similar to the Low Pay Commission should periodically review the rate and provide advice on the optimal level of alcohol duty
- Targeted: alcohol duty rates should be linked to the harm alcohol causes. Alcohol sold in off-trade locations such as supermarkets is associated with more harm than that sold in pubs and restaurants. Charging a higher level of duty for alcoholic drinks sold in the off-trade would allow the Government to target tax increases where they would have the greatest effect; without large tax increases for the hospitality sector
- Until the system has been reformed, alcohol duty should be increased by 2% above inflation every year. This could save over 5,000 lives, prevent almost 300,000 crimes and save about £840 million health care costs in England and Scotland, from 2020-2032.