The Foundation for Liver Research, an organisation of leading hepatologists, has brought together a range of statistics on the economic, social and fiscal impact of liver disease in its new report: ‘Financial case for action on liver disease‘. Endorsed by the Lancet Commission on Liver Disease, the report argues that these numbers demonstrate an urgent need for concerted preventative action to tackle alcohol misuse, obesity and viral hepatitis. Proposed policy solutions include:

  • A minimum unit price for alcohol
  • The reintroduction of the alcohol duty escalator to ensure alcohol taxes rise by 2% above inflation each year
  • A specific tax on high strength ciders between 5.5% and 7.5% ABV to target ‘white ciders’
  • Trading hours for off-trade retailers to be restricted to 10am-10pm, and limits to on-trade sales after midnight
  • Strengthened regulation of alcohol marketing and advertising, including banning sports sponsorship, restricting cinema adverts to 18 certificate films, and a watershed for TV advertising

The Foundation for Liver Research builds its case on the basis of figures from a range of sources, which show among other things that:

  • The societal cost of alcohol in England and Wales has been estimated between £21 billion (UK Government Cabinet Office) and £52 billion (Public Health England)
  • Without further action, between 2017 and 2022, alcohol-related illness in England is projected to cause 63,000 deaths and cost the NHS £17 billion (University of Sheffield / Cancer Research UK)
  • 167,000 years of working life were lost in England in 2015 (Public Health England)
  • 57,940 claimants of government sickness/disability benefits had alcohol misuse as their primary medical condition (Department of Work & Pensions)
  • Alcohol-related crime has a social cost of £13 billion a year in England and Wales (Home Office)

Professor Roger Williams, director of the Foundation for Liver Research, and Chairman of the Lancet Commission on Liver Disease argued:

“Liver disease is a public health crisis that has been steadily unfolding before our eyes for a number of years now and the Government will have to take robust public health action if its main causes (alcohol misuse, obesity and viral hepatitis) are to be controlled. Our new report strengthens the argument for intervention by revealing the full and alarming extent of the financial costs associated with inaction in these areas and setting out the economic benefits of addressing these risk factors.

“Three years ago, the Lancet Commission on Liver Disease created a blueprint for improvement, supported by the clinical community, setting out a range of targeted measures to reduce the burden of ill health in these areas. Yet we are still missing prioritisation, funding and drive to implement the Commission’s recommendations. We urge the Government to take immediate steps to halt and reverse the crisis in liver disease.”

Commenting on the findings in The Guardian, Katherine Brown, director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, accused the government of not doing enough to limit alcohol-related harm, given that reducing avoidable deaths from a range of life-threatening conditions is a key target of government health policy.

“This report shows the enormous financial burden alcohol places on our country. Billions of pounds are spent each year which has a huge impact on our struggling NHS, police and public services,” said Brown.

“Whilst it is a key government priority to tackle avoidable mortality we have seen very little action to prevent liver disease, one of the top causes of avoidable deaths. It is tragic that, at a time when there is strong evidence for policies that will reduce avoidable deaths and hospital admissions, especially those related to alcohol, so many families will continue to suffer due to the ill-health or loss of a loved one.

“If this government is serious about tackling the biggest causes of ill-health, safeguarding the vulnerable and protecting public services, it simply has to take action. The evidence is clear: Raise the price of the cheapest alcohol to save lives and save money,” she added.