The Alcohol Health Alliance has written to chancellor George Osborne urging him to stand firm and maintain the alcohol duty escalator in the 2014 budget.
The letter, which is signed by 24 members of the Alliance criticises the call from some sections of the alcohol industry to scrap the duty escalator. It argues that freezing duty rises on drink would unfairly increase the burden on the public purse and put even more pressure on public services and frontline workers.
Key points mentioned in the letter include:
- The alcohol duty escalator is appropriate and fair, and maintaining an upward trend in alcohol duties will be beneficial to the economy, society and public health.
- The cost of alcohol harm in the UK is estimated to exceed £21 billion each year, which is more than double the total revenues collected from alcohol duties (£10 billion).
- Reducing the affordability of alcohol is internationally recognised as one of the most effective ways of addressing alcohol harm.
- Alcohol is 61% more affordable than it was in 1980, and in the UK alcohol affordability has increased significantly more than most other EU countries in recent years.
- Ending the duty escalator will further weaken the ban on below cost sales: current proposals mean strong white cider can be sold for 6p per unit and distilled spirits for 32p – we can’t afford for cheap drink to get cheaper.
- UK wine and spirits consumption is at record levels, and among young women aged 16-24 the proportion of spirits drinkers is now larger than any other demographic group.
- The duty escalator isn’t bad news for all businesses - a decrease in drinking levels doesn’t necessarily mean job losses, and raising taxes on wine and spirits may help boost the pub trade.
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance and the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) special adviser on alcohol said:
To suggest scrapping the duty escalator at a time when current levels of alcohol tax revenue do not even meet half the cost of alcohol related harm to our society is deplorable.
Parliament has been absolutely right to support the duty escalator since 2008 – it has played an important role in addressing the affordability of cheap alcohol that creates an enormous burden on society. Government needs to stand strong on this issue – the taxpayer is already paying too much to foot the bill of alcohol related harm, now is not the time to scrap the alcohol duty escalator. Society simply cannot afford it.
Katherine Brown, director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies said:
It would be madness if the alcohol industry lobby managed to convince the chancellor to make cheap drink even cheaper at a time when strong white cider can be sold for 6p per unit. Scrapping the duty escalator would be going against yet another government commitment to tackle the cheap alcohol that is causing mayhem on our streets and bringing our health service to its knees.
Furthermore, making alcohol more affordable poses a real risk to vulnerable groups such as young women. With almost a third of female drinkers aged 16-24 drinking the equivalent of nine shots of vodka in a session each week, we need to be doing everything in our powers to curb excessive alcohol consumption, not encouraging it by lowering the price.