Doctors call for the duty escalator to be reintroduced

Arabella Mileham

Doctors and alcohol charities are calling on the government to reinstate the alcohol duty escalator in the Budget in March.

The Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA), which represents organisations including the Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of GPs, British Medical Association, Alcohol Concern and the Institute of Alcohol Studies, has published an advert in The Times today claiming the alcohol industry is not contributing a fair amount to combat alcohol misuse.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK and special advisor on alcohol to the Royal College of Physicians said the issue had become more pertinent as the NHS was under increasing pressure from preventable alcohol-related admissions. He said that over three quarters of the UK wanted tax levels on alcohol to either stay the same or to be increased, according to a sample survey conducted on 3077 respondents.

“The taxpayer is already paying too much to foot the bill of alcohol misuse to the NHS and wider society,” he said. “Funding to our NHS is at crisis point and yet the Government’s tax breaks given to the alcohol industry last year would be enough to pay for an additional 9,500 nurses to work in our A&E departments.”

The government has put the cost of alcohol misuse to the UK economy at £3.7 billion, but Gilmore pointed out the wider costs (which includes policing, court costs, and the emotional impact and days taken off work) was estimated to be more than £21billion, more than double the £10 billion revenue currently generated from alcohol taxes.

“It is time that Government stopped listening to alcohol ‘big business’ to the exclusion of independent health experts and the public,” he said.

The news comes as senior trade figures rally around the Drop the Duty campaign, which is calling on Chancellor to cut alcohol duty rates by 2% in the March Budget. Spearheaded by the WSTA and supported by Harpers, the campaign argues that the UK wine and spirits industry is worth nearly £45bn in terms of economic activity to the UK and generates £14.5bn in tax revenue for the Treasury, as well as supporting more than 600,000 jobs. It is calling on the industry to lobby MPs by going to the Drop the Duty website or visiting the Action Week 1 area of the March for the Independents and sending the templated letter to their local MP. 

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