Scrapping tax rises for drink ‘would be madness’

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Abandoning annual tax increases on alcohol would be “madness” because cheap drink is “bringing the NHS to its knees” and causing “mayhem” on the streets of Britain, medical experts have warned.

If Ministers scrapped the duty rise in the 2014 Budget it would put “even more pressure on public services and frontline workers”, the Alcohol Health Alliance said.

The alliance – which is made up of leading health bodies including the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), the British Medical Association, and charity Alcohol Concern – called on George Osborne to maintain the alcohol duty escalator.

In a letter to Mr Osborne, the group said that freezing duty rises on drink would “unfairly” increase the burden on the public purse.

It argued that the cost of alcohol harm in the UK is estimated to exceed £21bn a year – which is more than double the total revenues collected from alcohol duties.

The letter states that the alcohol duty escalator – which goes up by inflation plus two per cent each year – is beneficial to economy, society and public health.

The escalator was scrapped for beer in the Chancellor’s last Budget, but it is still in place for wine and spirits.

Katherine Brown, director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said: “It would be madness if the alcohol industry lobby managed to convince the Chancellor to make cheap drink even cheaper at a time when strong white cider can be sold for 6p per unit.”

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance and the RCP’s special adviser on alcohol, said: “To suggest scrapping the duty escalator at a time when current levels of alcohol tax revenue do not even meet half the cost of alcohol-related harm to our society is deplorable.”

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association claims that UK tax duty plus VAT now accounts for 79 per cent of the average price of a bottle of spirit and 57 per cent of a bottle of wine.

The organisation has called for an end to the duty escalator, saying that a period free of tax rises would allow the sector to “grow” and “play its part in the UK’s economic growth”. Other organisations have also called for the measure to be scrapped.