Duty rates for for beer, cider and spirits have been frozen in the 2020 budget, disappointing health campaigners who had been urging the government to increase alcohol duty by 2 per cent above inflation to fund new jobs in health and public services (DDN, March, page 5). Duty rates on tobacco products were increased, however.
Among the other measures announced by chancellor Rishi Sunak were £262m for substance misuse services for people sleeping rough, as well as the first allocation from the new Shared Outcomes Fund to ‘pilot improved approaches to supporting adults with complex needs’ and test new ways of collaborative working across the public sector. The government has committed £46m from the fund to improve support for people with multiple complex needs such as substance misuse, homelessness or reoffending.
Collective Voice welcomed the funding announcements but said that it was important to ‘keep things in perspective’, as the public health grant had been cut by £850m since 2014-15. ‘And while ring-fenced innovation funding pots are welcome to any field, it’s essential they are not used to simply plaster over decimated core budgets for life-saving services,’ it stated, urging the government to confirm the public health grant allocations for 2020-21 soon as possible.
The ‘real beneficiary’ of the budget appeared to be the drinks industry, said Alcohol Change UK. ‘While we offer the industry tax breaks and encourage the sale of ever-cheaper alcohol, we are lagging behind other countries in the measures we are taking to reduce alcohol harm,’ stated director of research and policy, Lucy Holmes. ‘Sensible taxation and other pricing measures can reduce harm and save lives.’
Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, added that it was a ‘travesty’ that the government had ‘taken the decision – yet again – to freeze alcohol duty, prioritising the alcohol industry above our nation’s health. Recent cuts to alcohol duty have cost the government £1.2bn every year since 2012.’
Meanwhile, Alastair Campbell has told the second oral evidence session of the recently launched Commission on Alcohol Harm (DDN, March, page 4) that the government needs to make alcohol harm a priority. ‘This is an issue whose time has come,’ he said.
‘Leadership should now be focused on closing inequalities and improving national health. It’s obvious what needs to be done – alcohol has a cultural hold on this country and that needs to change. There needs to be better education for children about the harmful effects of alcohol and for all of us about how to speak to and support someone with alcohol dependency. Minimum unit pricing seems to be working in Scotland and ought to be introduced here. England is lagging behind the rest of the UK in tackling alcohol harm.’