All alcohol duties are to be frozen for the second year running, the chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced in his much-anticipated budget, with no extra duties on wine, spirits, beer or cider. Alcohol health charities, however, had been calling on the government to increase duties to help tackle rising rates of alcohol-related deaths – provisional ONS data for the first nine months of last year show 5,460 deaths related to alcohol-specific causes, up more than 16 per cent on the same period in 2019 (DDN, March, page 5).
The decision to freeze duties was a ‘huge blow for the health of our population’, said chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore. ‘Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, deaths caused by alcohol have hit a new record high in England and Wales and high-risk drinking increased by almost 90 per cent between February and September last year,’ he stated. ‘Alcohol treatment services are on their knees whilst off-trade alcohol sales have hit new heights. It is absurd that despite the mounting strain that alcohol places on our NHS and public services, the government has taken the decision – yet again – to freeze alcohol duty, prioritising the interests of the alcohol industry above this country’s health.’
The government had been ‘taken in’ by the industry’s claims that duty freezes would help to prevent pub closures, he added. ‘The evidence shows that duty freezes do not benefit pubs – instead they accelerate consumer shift towards low-priced alcohol at supermarkets, making it harder for pubs to compete. This budget represents a failure to take alcohol harm seriously and the most vulnerable in our society will continue to suffer the consequences.’