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Strong support for higher alcohol taxes to help fund public services

Worrying rise in alcohol deaths in the North East in 2020

Worrying rise in alcohol deaths in the North East in 2020

Posted 17/10/18

New figures released today show that nearly half (49%) of North Easterners support increasing alcohol taxes if the money raised went into funding public services impacted by alcohol use, such as the NHS and police.

The recent online survey also revealed that just over a quarter (26%) of North Easterners would oppose the measure.

The survey, conducted by Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, comes as leading voices in the alcohol recovery and public health sector are calling on the government to increase alcohol duty by 2% above inflation in the budget later this month.

With the promise of an additional £20 billion for the NHS, the government needs to find new streams of revenue. Reports over the summer suggested that the government was considering increases to alcohol and fuel duty to help pay for this. However, following significant pressure to abandon these proposals, Theresa May announced earlier this month that fuel duty would remain frozen; making it even more urgent to find a way to finance the commitment to the NHS.

The new polling indicates that the government would have the support of the public to press ahead with an increase in alcohol duty to help fund the NHS. While such a move would increase the revenue for the Treasury, it would have the double effect of also reducing demand and costs on the NHS.

Alcohol puts considerable pressure on the NHS with more than a million alcohol-related hospital admissions and thousands of alcohol-related deaths every year. Increasing alcohol duty above inflation for five successive years would prevent more than 600 alcohol-related deaths every year.

Despite recent improvements the North East continues to have the highest rates of alcohol-related hospital admissions in the country.

Successive cuts in alcohol duty since 2013 have cost the government £4 billion in lost revenue – equivalent to the salaries of almost 40,000 GPs or more than 120,000 social workers.

Colin Shevills, Director of Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, said “Cheap alcohol places a massive burden on our North East public services, with alcohol harm costing our NHS £209m a year and the police £331m a year.

“With public services under pressure and overstretched, we just cannot afford any more alcohol duty cuts. The government needs to increase the tax on alcohol to create additional revenue to fund these vital services. This would save lives, cut crime, reduce hospital admissions and lessen the financial pressures that alcohol places on public services.”

Balance’s Views from Behind the Bar, North East Landlord Survey recently showed that publicans see no benefit to their businesses from alcohol duty cuts and that they need measures which help them compete with supermarkets.

Landlord Ian McNaughton, of The Falcon Inn in North Yorkshire, believes cheap supermarket alcohol is a cause for the closure of pubs, especially in rural areas.

He said: “I think that cuts in alcohol duty only benefit supermarkets. We are led to believe that this is a measure that helps pubs and landlords such as myself, but it is putting us at a greater disadvantage and enabling supermarkets to capitalise on cheaper alcohol to attract customers and drive their profit.”

Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said: “With our public services overstretched already, we can’t afford for alcohol to get any cheaper. Increasing alcohol duty will help to curb the pressure on the NHS, while creating additional revenue for the government. This survey shows that the majority of the public support an increase in alcohol duty if the money raised is spent on services impacted by alcohol use, such as the NHS.”