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alcohol health alliance uk

Cheap Alcohol Highlights Need for Duty Reform

Alcohol duty

Alcohol duty

Posted 12/11/20

New figures out this week highlight the need for an alcohol duty reform across England. The report from the Alcohol Health Alliance shows how dangerous quantities of alcohol can be purchased at pocket money prices and comes at a time when Balance, along with partners, is calling for change to the currently complex duty system.

The 2020 pricing survey looked at the cost of the cheapest alcohol across England, Scotland and Wales and found that, in England, it is possible to drink the CMO’s low risk guidelines of 14 units for just £2.68 – less than a cup of coffee on the high street. This is in stark contrast to Scotland and Wales, where the same product costs 60% more, due to the introduction of minimum unit pricing.

With research showing that cheap alcohol leads to increased social harms and worsening health inequalities, the World Health Organization and Public Health England both recommend increasing the price of alcohol as one of the most effective and cost-effective policies to reduce alcohol harm.

Balance is joining the AHA and others to recommend a number of changes to the alcohol duty system. To protect public health and raise enough revenue to cover the cost of alcohol harms, we believe the system should be:
Proportionate: the overall level of alcohol tax should cover to the cost of alcohol to society. The cost of alcohol in England is estimated to be around £27bn. Current revenue from alcohol taxes does not cover even half of this.
Scaled: stronger drinks should pay more tax, per unit alcohol, than weaker drinks, due to particular harms they cause.

Consistent: same strength drinks should pay the same level of tax. Currently, drinks are taxed differently depending on strength or volume, which allows some stronger drinks to be sold cheaply and in large quantities.

Uprated: alcohol duty should automatically increase in line with inflation or earnings. Alcohol is 74% more affordable than it was in 1987. Over ten years from 2014/15 to 2024/25, the total cumulative foregone revenue due to tax cuts and freezes will climb to £13 billion.

Colin Shevills, Director of the North East Alcohol Office Balance, said: “With the highest rates of alcohol related deaths and hospital admissions in England, the North East is suffering the greatest harm from alcohol which is very cheap and, because of recent cuts in alcohol duty, getting even cheaper.

“If the Government is serious about ‘levelling up’ and reducing health inequalities we need a fairer alcohol duty system and a minimum unit price for alcohol in England. These measures would reduce harm to individuals, reduce pressure on our emergency services and raise much needed money to invest in our public services.”

Read the AHA Pricing Survey 2020 here: