Recent reductions in alcohol duty have had a dramatic negative effect on public health, according to a new study from the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group, commissioned by IAS. The early scrapping of the alcohol duty escalator, which was intended to ensure taxes on alcohol rose by 2% above inflation each year until 2015, and subsequent real-terms cuts to alcohol duty, mean that beer duty is 19% lower than in 2012, cider and spirits duty 11% lower, and wine duty 2% lower, accounting for inflation. The report, Modelling the impact of alcohol duty policies since 2012 in England and Scotland, found that these cuts resulted in:

  • 1,969 additional deaths in England and 254 additional deaths in Scotland between 2012 and 2019
  • 61,386 additional hospital admissions in England and 4,556 additional hospital admissions in Scotland over the same period
  • £341 million in additional costs to the NHS
  • Over 100,000 additional alcohol-attributable crimes
  • Over 500,000 additional lost days of work, at a cost to the economy of £62 million

Moreover, the researchers found that the largest negative effects were suffered by those living in the most deprived communities, further widening health inequalities.

At the same time, the report estimated that above inflation increases in alcohol duty, starting from the forthcoming Budget could have dramatic benefits. Reintroducing the duty escalator between 2020 and 2032 would result in 4,700 fewer alcohol-attributable deaths in England and 420 fewer alcohol-attributable deaths in Scotland.

Colin Angus, senior research fellow in the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group, and lead author of the report said: ‘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.’

Aveek Bhattacharya, senior policy analyst at IAS, said: ‘Over the past six years, government policy has deliberately made alcohol cheaper by cutting duty. Cheaper alcohol inevitably means higher levels of drinking, higher levels of crime and social disorder, higher costs to the economy and public purse, and ultimately, more deaths. Recent duty cuts are also costing HM Treasury £1.2 billion that could be put to supporting stretched public services. This new report quantifies the human cost of cheaper drink in England: almost 2,000 needless deaths, 61,000 unnecessary hospitalisations and over 100,000 extra crimes. Fortunately, it also shows us a better way forward: with real-terms increases in alcohol duty, starting from the forthcoming Budget, the government can reduce the burden on public services, raise millions of pounds and, most importantly, save thousands of lives.’