Almost 50 leading health experts have written to the chancellor urging him to increase alcohol duty when the current freeze ends later in the year.
Among the signatories are Dan Carden MP and the chief executives of Alcohol Change UK, Humankind, Nacoa, and the British Liver Trust, as well as the president of the Royal College of Surgeons and the chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners.
A decade of cuts and freezes to alcohol duty have seen alcohol become 14 per cent more affordable since 2010, the letter states, which has ‘undoubtedly’ contributed to the current record numbers of alcohol-related deaths. Alcohol-specific deaths in the UK reached their highest ever level in 2021, at more than 9,600 – a 27 per cent increase in just two years. When the ‘alcohol duty escalator’ – the annual 2 per cent increase above inflation – was in place, deaths of alcohol-related liver disease fell, the letter states.
The current rate of inflation means that while the price of beer has risen by just over 5 per cent since 2010, and wine by just 2 per cent, the price of juice has risen by almost 17 per cent over the same period, the letter points out. The decade-old estimate of a £3.5bn annual cost of alcohol harm to the NHS in England alone is likely to be a ‘significant’ underestimate, it adds. ‘Increasing alcohol duty in the upcoming spring budget would help to alleviate pressure on the NHS and generate much needed income,’ said Alcohol Health Alliance chair Sir Ian Gilmore.
‘Moreover, if the chancellor builds automatic uprating into the duty system, he will ensure that his duty reform plans remain effective well into the future, protecting the lives of people today and for generations to come. As a former health secretary I’m sure he will appreciate the damage alcohol harm does to communities, frontline services and the economy. Since 2019 we have seen a 27 per cent rise in deaths from alcohol and over 1m hospital admissions a year. These record-breaking rates of harm cannot be ignored any longer.’