Pay 3p more for a beer, save lives: the Alcohol Treatment Levy

Maddy Lawson | September 2018 | 7 minutes

Increasing alcohol duties by 1% would raise around £100 million each year which, invested in alcohol treatment, could save the NHS and other public services around £300 million annually.

This would equate to just 5p more for an average bottle of wine and 3p more for a pint of beer – yet would boost alcohol treatment budgets in England alone by 50%.

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Treatment Levy Briefing

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In a proposal launched today, the charity formed by the merger of Alcohol Concern and Alcohol Research UK says the move will help to address the crisis in alcohol treatment services, saving the public money but, more importantly, saving lives.

Between 2016 and 2018 alone over two-thirds of local authorities cut their alcohol treatment budgets, with 17 local authorities seeing cuts of more the 50%. More than half of the local authorities experiencing the most severe cuts were also in the top two quintiles for numbers of dependent drinkers as a percentage of the total population. This situation is liable to worsen from 2020 when a new funding structure comes into effect.

In 2017, 5,507 deaths in England were directly attributable to alcohol, an increase of 11% since 2006, while hospital admissions caused primarily by alcohol were 17% higher. The total number of hospital admissions for which alcohol was a factor was close to one million, or about 7% of all hospital admissions. Further cuts to treatment budgets will only make things worse.

In addition to the human cost, there is a financial cost. Alcohol costs NHS England alone £3.5 billion each year. A significant proportion of these costs are linked to a relatively small group of individuals with very complex needs, for example mental health problems. Without adequate treatment services this group often fall through the gaps, relying on accident and emergency departments, which costs far more than proper treatment.

Public Health England estimates that for every additional £1 invested in local alcohol treatment provision, £3 is saved.

Dr James Nicholls, Director of Research and Policy Development at the charity formed by the merger of Alcohol Concern and Alcohol Research UK, said:

“While every year the alcohol industry makes around £8 billion from the 4% of the population who drink most heavily, cuts to alcohol treatment services are having a devastating effect across the UK. This is out of balance. We should not leave people with severe alcohol problems unsupported, nor should we leave the 200,000 children living with a dependent parent to fend for themselves. We as a society urgently need to find more money to support essential services. That will help people who drink too much and their families, but it will also save the taxpayer money by avoiding higher costs down the line that could be avoided with treatment.”

Karen Tyrell, Executive Director at Addaction, one of the UK's leading mental health, drug and alcohol charities, said:

“We’re thrilled that Steve Brine MP [Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health and Primary Care] is committed to developing a new alcohol strategy. It’s a real opportunity to set out an ambitious plan to help more people and to counter the damaging effects of hazardous and harmful drinking. But to do that, we need to invest in specialist services for people with an alcohol dependency. At the moment only one in five people who desperately need treatment can get it. That’s not good enough. It heaps pressure on our health services, but most importantly, it means we're only reaching a fraction of those who need our help."