Alcohol tax cuts cause nearly 2,000 extra deaths in seven years, study finds

‘The effects of government duty policy since 2012 will still be seen for many years - estimated to be 9,000 additional deaths by 2032’

Jane Dalton
Friday 11 October 2019 06:49 BST
Duty on beer has fallen since 2013, making it cheaper
Duty on beer has fallen since 2013, making it cheaper

Cuts in alcohol tax have led to nearly 2,000 extra deaths and more than 100,000 extra crimes in England in seven years, according to new research.

Other “dramatic consequences” for public health include 61,000 cases of people being taken to hospital unnecessarily, a study found.

The effects of the cuts since 2012 could mean 9,000 extra deaths in all over 20 years, the experts predicted.

The findings come as Sajid Javid, the chancellor, considers whether to raise alcohol duty in his autumn Budget, a move that researchers say could potentially save more than 4,700 lives over the next decade.

Boris Johnson vowed earlier this year to veto any rises in “sin taxes”, including those on alcohol.

The Institute of Alcohol Studies, which commissioned the study from the University of Sheffield, says that real-terms increases in alcohol tax would reduce the burden on public services, raise millions of pounds and save thousands of lives.

Since 2012, the duties on beer, cider and spirits have fallen, and only wine duty has risen significantly, figures show.

In 2008 an alcohol duty escalator was introduced, raising taxes by 2 per cent above inflation every year.

But it was scrapped in 2013 and since then the government has also frozen and made further cuts to alcohol duty, leading to lower prices and making shop-bought alcohol more affordable now than at any time in the past 30 years, the researchers said.

The Sheffield Alcohol Research Group, based at the University of Sheffield, found the cuts to alcohol duties since 2012 led to a 1 per cent rise in alcohol consumption in England.

This has caused almost 2,000 extra alcohol-related deaths, compared with if the alcohol escalator had remained in place until 2015 as originally planned, the study said.

Colin Angus, of the research group, said: “Due to the complex relationship between alcohol and health, the effects of government duty policy since 2012 will continue to be seen for many years into the future, estimated to be as high as 9,000 additional deaths by 2032.”

The group found the knock-on effects of these cuts has been an increase of over 61,000 hospital admissions since 2012 at an estimated cost of £317m to the NHS, an estimated additional 111,000 instances of alcohol-related crime and an economic value of £58m in lost working days for businesses in England.

Mr Angus said the positive impacts of Scotland’s minimum unit pricing (MUP) outweighed the negative impact of cutting duty.

The group also found that the people most affected by the changes to alcohol duties are those living in the most deprived communities, and cuts are likely to have widened health inequalities between the most and least well-off, the researchers said.

Reintroducing the duty escalator would cut alcohol consumption in England to 2.2 per cent below 2012 levels by 2032.

“We modelled what could happen if the escalator was reintroduced in 2020 and found that this could lead to over 4,700 fewer alcohol-related deaths and a reduction in alcohol-related hospital admissions, which could save the NHS £794m by 2032.”

A Treasury spokesperson said: “Overall alcohol consumption has fallen in recent years, but we continue to look at the range of measures available to control excessive consumption through tax and pricing.

“That’s why we introduced a new ‘white cider’ band, which came into effect in February, tackling the alcoholic product most associated with cheap harmful drinking.”

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