Increased levies on alcohol prices needed to limit damage to society – report

Government urged to raise alcohol duties to help deal with cost of heavy drinking to society (PA) Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

A new “treatment levy” should be imposed on alcohol duties to help deal with the harm caused by heavy drinking, MPs and health groups have said.

Ministers have been urged to bring forward a wide-ranging alcohol strategy to improve support for those in need, minimise costs to the NHS, and help tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder.

The push for a comprehensive policy overhaul comes from the Drugs, Alcohol and Justice Cross Party Parliamentary Group, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Harm and 30 civil society groups.

Help for dependent drinkers should be part funded by the introduction of a 1% “treatment levy” on alcohol duty, the study recommended.

This would help alleviate pressure on the NHS as it is forecast drink-related issues will cost the health service £17 billion over the next five years.

Dr Richard Piper, of Alcohol Research UK, said imposing a levy of 1% above RPI would be equivalent to an extra 3p on an average pint of beer, and would raise £100 million a year to improve services and cut costs to the NHS by up to £300 million per year.

The report said the increased availability of cheap alcohol needs to be “urgently tackled” and argues minimum unit pricing should be brought in as part of a post-Brexit review of alcohol costs which takes into account the strength of drinks on sale, and corrects anomalies between different categories.

The drink driving blood alcohol content limit should also be reduced to 50mg/100ml in line with Scotland, the study adds.

The report insists concrete change, like health warnings on drink labels, is needed because at present more than one million hospital admissions a year in England are alcohol related, with liver disease deaths quadrupling since 1970.

Alcohol-related crime costs up to £11 billion a year, and there are estimated to be 595,000 alcohol dependent adults in England, with nearly 200,000 children living with at least one alcohol-dependent adult, the study says.

Drawn-up in consultation with the Alcohol Health Alliance, Alcohol Concern, Alcohol Research UK and the Institute for Alcohol Studies, the strategy document calls on the Government to publish an evidence-based initiative aimed at reducing the damage caused to society by alcohol.

Chairwoman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Harm, Fiona Bruce, said: “With alcohol harm the leading cause of death among 15 to 49-year-olds, Government must urgently take much stronger action to address this.”

Drugs, Alcohol and Justice Cross-Party Parliamentary Group co-chairwoman Mary Glindon said: “With dozens of alcohol-related deaths across the UK every day, we decided that rather than wait ages for the Government’s alcohol strategy, we should promote a programme of actions which could reduce harm levels dramatically.”

Chairman of the Alcohol Health Alliance, Sir Ian Gilmore, added: “The Government needs to ensure that the upcoming alcohol strategy includes evidence-based policies which work to reduce alcohol harm and tackle the increased availability of super cheap alcohol.

“The best ways to do that is by introducing minimum unit pricing in England – which we already have in Scotland and will soon have in Wales – and increasing alcohol duty.”

A spokesman for industry group the Alcohol Information Partnership said: “We are opposed to any form of blanket taxation which penalises the vast majority of people who do not drink to excess.

“The drinks industry already supports a range of initiatives which are designed to target harmful drinkers.

“UK taxpayers are already paying some of the highest levels of duty in Europe and this proposal will place an even greater burden on ordinary drinkers and the thousands of people in the hospitality industry who this tax rise would hit hardest.”