UK: Alcohol Tax Cuts Caused Many Deaths
According to a new study cuts in alcohol taxes have led to nearly 2000 more deaths and 100,000 additional crimes in England.
The study, commissioned by the Institute of Alcohol Studies and conducted by University of Sheffield found that since 2012, the taxes on alcohol has been falling. A duty escalator was introduced in 2008 but scrapped in 2013 and the government has been cutting or freezing taxes on alcohol every year since then.
What has happened to the nation’s health since the scrapping of the alcohol duty escalator? New research from the University of Sheffield and IAS models the impact since 2012 pic.twitter.com/UEPEUOci04
— IAS (@InstAlcStud) October 11, 2019
In England, alcohol harm is already a heavy burden. More than 10,000 deaths and 625,000 hospital admissions each year in England are caused by alcohol, costing the NHS over £2.6 billion, as well as increased levels of crime and workplace absence.
The study found that the alcohol tax cuts had the following additional harmful effects:
- Led to a 1% increase in alcohol consumption causing nearly an extra 2000 alcohol related deaths;
- 61,000 cases of people being taken to hospital unnecessarily at an estimated cost of £317m to the NHS;
- An estimated additional 111,000 instances of alcohol-related crime;
- An economic value of £58m in lost working days for businesses in England;
- Shop bought alcohol is now the most affordable for the past 30 years;
- The effects of the cuts since 2012 could mean 9,000 extra deaths in all, over 20 years according to predictions.
As alcohol has long-term effects on many chronic health conditions, including several cancers, these numbers are only the tip of the iceberg. Even if future governments increase duty in line with inflation, we expect almost 7,000 additional deaths between now and 2032 as a consequence of the duty cuts that have already happened,” writes Colin Angus, senior research fellow in the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group, and lead author of the report in The Conversation.
Lower alcohol price, higher alcohol harm
Between 2008 and 2012, alcohol duties in the UK increased by 2% above inflation on an annual basis under the so-called “duty escalator”. The duty escalator was set to be in effect at least until 2015, but was surprisingly abandoned in 2013 by former chancellor George Osborne. Subsequently, alcohol taxes have either been cut or frozen in every year except for 2017. Consequently, the real-terms cost of duty on a pint of beer has fallen by almost a fifth since 2012.
Over the past six years, government policy has deliberately made alcohol cheaper by cutting duty. Cheaper alcohol inevitably means higher levels of [alcohol use], higher levels of crime and social disorder, higher costs to the economy and public purse, and ultimately, more deaths,” explained Aveek Bhattacharya, senior policy analyst at IAS.
The findings come as Sajid Javid, the chancellor, considers whether to raise the alcohol duty in his autumn Budget, a move that researchers say could potentially save more than 4,700 lives over the next decade.
The study also found that the positive impact of minimum unit pricing (MUP) in Scotland has outweighed the negative impact of cutting duty.
The research group further found that, the people most affected by the changes to alcohol duties are those living in the most deprived communities, there by increasing social inequalities. For example, duty on beer which is consumed by a less affluent demographic has had 20% alcohol tax cuts while for wine it has been 2% tax cuts.
The study estimates that as a result, the highest increase in alcohol use since 2012 happened in the most deprived groups, leading to 38% of the total additional deaths falling in the most deprived 20% of the population.
As per study findings reintroducing the duty escalator would cut alcohol consumption in England to 2.2 per cent below 2012 levels by 2032.
Reintroducing the alcohol duty escalator would be an effective way to reduce alcohol consumption and its associated negative effects on public health across the UK in the future,” said Colin Angus, senior research fellow in the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group, and lead author of the report, as per IAS.