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1bn alcohol tax cuts would fund the salaries of 40,000 nurses

Duty campaign

What would you Choose?

Posted 10/07/19

What would you choose – annual tax cuts of £1 billion to support the alcohol industry or paying the salaries of 40,000 nurses , 28,500 police or 25,000 teachers?

That’s the question posed by a new campaign launching today by the Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA) and Balance, the North East Alcohol Office.

The campaign is calling on the Government to increase alcohol duty by 2% above inflation in this year’s Budget, to fund public health and prevention services.

Alcohol continues to cause substantial harm to families and communities across the North East. The region experiences the highest rates of alcohol-related hospital admissions in the country – 72,000 each year – a rate that is 23% higher than the England average .

In 2015/16, alcohol was estimated to have cost the North East a total of £1.01 billion, including:

• £209 million in NHS and healthcare for services such as hospital admissions, A&E attendances, ambulance callouts and treatment for alcohol dependency.
• £331 million in crime and disorder, including 55,300 cases of criminal damage, 154,900 cases of theft and 20,000 cases of violence against the person.

Nationally, the total societal cost of alcohol is estimated at around £21 billion annually . In a recent report published in Addiction Journal, a staggering one in five patients in the UK hospital system use alcohol harmfully and one in 10 is alcohol dependent . Alcohol treatment can be fundamental to help people turn their lives around, however budgets for public health services have been cut substantially. Now, only one in five people who need alcohol treatment can access it.

Meanwhile, alcohol tax cuts have cost the Treasury an average of almost £1 billion every year since 2013/14 – money which could, for example, fund the salaries of around 40,000 nurses or 28,500 police officers.

The campaign comes as the NHS and other public services face a desperate shortage of staff. According to the Royal College of Nursing, there are currently nearly 40,000 nurse vacancies – one in nine posts – which alcohol duty increases could help to fund.

Colin Shevills, Director of Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, said: “We are all conscious about the pressures our schools, our NHS and our police forces are under – it is time to say no to more alcohol tax cuts when this money could help fund the vital front line services most of us rely on.

“It is ironic that the alcohol industry is benefiting from around £1 billion in alcohol duty reductions every year, while it costs the North East £1 billion a year to mop up the fallout from the product they are selling.

“The burden alcohol places on society is unsustainable and we’re all paying the price. In the next Budget, the Government has an opportunity to act by ending tax cuts for the alcohol industry. We are urging them to prioritise public services, including the NHS, police and education system, and intervene to bring alcohol harms under control.”

Alice Wiseman, lead Director of Public Health for Alcohol for the North East and Gateshead DPH, said: “Alcohol duty cuts are keeping alcohol - and especially that sold in supermarkets - too cheap. This not only hits pubs and contributes to the unnecessary damage alcohol causes communities across the North East, but also means less funding for public services to respond to this harm.

“According to experts, the alcohol industry makes over £23bn in sales in England alone from people whose drinking is destroying or risking their health . At the same time every day we hear from teachers, police officers and NHS staff who are working under serious pressure, facing cuts to funding and staff shortages. The last thing they need are more alcohol tax cuts.”

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said: “According to a host of independent experts, including the World Health Organisation, increasing alcohol taxes is one of the most effective and cost-effective ways to reduce alcohol harm and it can save lives. We know that the majority of the public are willing to pay higher taxes for alcohol if the money goes into funding public services impacted by alcohol use, such as the NHS and police.”

Although a common misperception, increasing alcohol duty does not hurt the pub trade. Professor Gilmore continued: “The alcohol industry might have us believe that tax increases are harming Britain’s local pubs – but that is not actually true. The evidence shows that duty cuts do not benefit pubs, instead they accelerate the shift towards supermarkets, making it harder for pubs to compete.”

People can back the campaign by writing to their MP.


The campaign is supported by a range of individuals who are calling for an end to tax breaks for alcohol companies.

Mike McDonald, regional secretary for the National Education Union, said: “Head teachers across the region tell us budgets are at breaking point. This has led to cuts in the number of teachers and support staff; increased class sizes and less teacher/pupil contact time; a narrowing of the curriculum and more schools reporting setting deficit budgets.

“At a time when children’s education and other public services are under such financial pressure, it is appalling that tax giveaways costing billions of pounds are being given to alcohol companies.

“This money could pay for more teachers to reduce class sizes, as well as essential resources such as text books, sports and music equipment which many schools cannot afford without going cap in hand to parents for donations.”

Kate Lambert, Consultant in Emergency Medicine at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, said: “As a doctor working under pressure in a busy Emergency Department, the additional strain alcohol puts on staff, and the NHS as a whole, is unsustainable. In the hospital setting, we see the worst effects of alcohol first-hand – it really does ruin lives. As well as the devastation it can cause individuals and families, it’s not uncommon for staff to be on the end of verbal or physical abuse from intoxicated patients. We’re so used to dealing with it that it’s become part of working life – but it shouldn’t be this way.”

Ron Hogg, Police, Crime and Victim’s Commissioner for County Durham, said: "Alcohol misuse places a massive strain on the police force and is one of the biggest problems officers face on a daily basis. Latest estimates show that the cost of alcohol-related crime is £11bn.

"Some estimates put alcohol as occupying around half of police's workload and it is a factor in 50% of violent crime. Cheap alcohol fuels disorder in our communities and makes policing a more dangerous and violent job.

"1 in 5 domestic incidents officers respond to are caused by people drinking very cheap alcohol in the home. Duty cuts only serve to make it easier and cheaper to drink to excessive levels, undercutting the licenced trade even further.

"At a time when police forces are warning that resources have become very significantly squeezed due to budget cuts, any attempts to cut tax on alcohol would be socially irresponsible and add to more problems for our emergency services. This sort of money could pay for more officers to be protecting our local communities."