Time to put public health above alcohol profits

November 2023 | 7 minutes

Alcohol Change UK is deeply disappointed with the announcement in today's Autumn Statement by Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the freeze in alcohol duty.

Commenting on the freeze, Dr Richard Piper, CEO of Alcohol Change UK, said:

It is astonishing that the Government has chosen to freeze alcohol duty yet again, an effective tax cut for wealthy alcohol producers while the rest of us are still in a cost-of-living crisis. This is damaging to the public purse and will cause more harm than good. This decision to subsidise alcohol producers is disgraceful. Alcohol harm costs all of us taxpayers around £21 billion per year and it’s not acceptable that the Government is failing to recoup this cost from those who profit from alcohol harm.

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 can absolutely pay their way. Alcohol duty must at least match inflation. Remember, alcohol duty is a tax only on alcohol producers and importers – 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 very price sensitive, so 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 and it is directly linked to seven types of cancer, including breast and bowel cancer. More alcohol harm means lower economic growth due to ill health and under-employment.

The harm caused by alcohol has to be balanced against the impact on businesses and this balance is currently way off. We understand that the hospitality industry is also facing rising costs and recovering from the pandemic but there are better ways to help the industry than to cut alcohol duty. Duty rises can actually help pubs and restaurants by reducing the price difference between pub and supermarket prices for example.

Alcohol harm costs society billions each year through the courts, policing and the NHS. We need the Government to urgently reconsider this decision and remove the freeze on alcohol duty. With alcohol liver deaths rapidly rising, with no signs of that falling back, we desperately need bold action from the Government to stop more lives being needlessly lost.