Report by Jonny Blair
Health leaders are calling for action on cheap alcohol in the Chancellor’s autumn budget.
The plea comes from experts in Cumbria and the North East - the region worst affected by record levels of alcohol-specific deaths during the pandemic
Among them are leading figures from Integrated Care System Population Health and Prevention Board, who say "urgent" action is necessary.
The charity Balance want to see alcohol duty up by two percent in this week's budget. According to their statistics, the number of alcohol deaths in the North East is the highest in the country.
The alcohol-specific death rate during 2020 was up by 20% on the year before, when 437 deaths were recorded.
ITV Tyne Tees spoke with an alcohol-dependent man (anonymised as Chris) who said his intake doubled during the peak of the pandemic.
Mark Anderson of the Road to Recovery Trust - a group that provides a space for recovering alcoholics to meet - says demand for the service increased during the pandemic.
"We certainly saw more people access services during the lockdown and now that the recovery meetings are open again we're certainly busier than we've ever been," he told us.
Dr Guy Pilkington, chair of the North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care System Prevention Board, said: “Alcohol often has a ruinous effect on families, health and communities. Tackling alcohol harm has to be part of this nation’s recovery from COVID.
"The evidence is clear – we urgently need action to tackle the ready availability of cheap alcohol which is driving the bulk of harm.”
Balance believe that a 2% rise would be a rare instance of a popular proposed duty increase.
According to their statistics, half (51%) of adults in the North East supported an increase in alcohol taxation if the money raised went into supporting services affected by alcohol harm.
But how likely is it that the Government will choose to impose the duty hike?
A government spokesperson said: “We know alcohol can be hugely damaging to individuals, their families’ wellbeing and society, and we are backing local authorities, who know their communities best, with over £3.3 billion in 2021-2022 to invest into public health services, including alcohol treatments.