Government urged to reconsider decision to freeze alcohol duty

December 2022 | 7 minutes

Dr Richard Piper, Chief Executive of Alcohol Change UK, is calling on the government to reconsider its decision urgently to freeze alcohol duty and instead to increase it in line with inflation to save lives.

Responding to today's announcement, Richard Piper said:

“We are deeply disappointed that the government has decided to freeze alcohol duty again for six months, after promising earlier this year that it would not; this is equivalent to a real-terms cut. Eroding the value of alcohol duty yet again, by failing to even match inflation, is damaging to all of us as taxpayers and will cause significant harm.

"While struggling households are being asked to contribute more, this decision to subsidise alcohol producers is totally unfair. In fact, this six-month freeze will cost the Treasury £650m in lost revenue at a time when the cost of living crisis is already putting our struggling public services, including our hard-pressed NHS, under even greater pressure.

“Cutting duty has two effects. First, it means other taxpayers have to contribute more in order to balance the books, giving a subsidy to the already wealthy alcohol producers. Diageo PLC, for example, saw an 18.2% jump in its profits this year to a staggering £4.4bn. These incredibly wealthy companies should be contributing far more, not less. Alcohol duty must at least match inflation. Remember, alcohol duty is a tax only on alcohol producers – not on the hospitality industry or on drinkers.

“Second, if alcohol producers use an alcohol duty cut to keep prices lower for consumers (which they may or may not) this increases alcohol harm. Evidence shows that heavy drinkers are often price sensitive and by making alcohol even more affordable in real terms will increase alcohol harm. Alcohol is the number one risk factor in death, ill-health and disability amongst the working age population. More alcohol harm means lower economic growth due to ill health and under-employment.

“The sheer number of people suffering as a result of alcohol is huge and growing. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show a further 7.4% rise in the rate of alcohol deaths in England and Wales in 2021, compared with 2020, and a staggering 27.4% compared with 2019. It’s time for the government to step up and take action to prevent this crisis from further deepening, cutting more lives short.

“Alcohol harm costs society billions each year through the courts, policing and the NHS. We need the government to reconsider this decision urgently and ensure that alcohol duty increases by more than inflation every year going forwards, reducing its affordability, raising money for the country, and saving lives.”