Reducing harm caused by alcohol

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Budget: No change in alcohol duty

It is so disappointing that once again, the Chancellor has frozen alcohol duty, leaving the most vulnerable in our society to pay the price.

In a supermarket price check carried out by Alcohol Focus Scotland, we found a 3 litre bottle of White Ace cider at 7.5% abv on sale for just £3.99. With 22.5 units of alcohol in the bottle, this works out at a ridiculously cheap 18p per unit.

High strength white ciders like White Ace and Frosty Jack’s currently have a lower duty per unit than any other alcohol product. Cider has received preferential treatment in the duty system, and this has allowed products to develop which cause a great deal of harm to people’s health. The Chancellor has announced a consultation on a new duty band targeting these drinks, but he should have taken action today.

Many people in treatment for alcohol problems, including homeless and street drinkers, consume these products, having “traded down” to cider as their drinking became heavier. The mum of a 16 year old girl who tragically died in her sleep after drinking Frosty Jack's has bravely been lobbying MPs for action on ‘pocket money’ booze.

The Chancellor also failed to reinstate the alcohol duty escalator. The escalator ensured that alcohol duty remained at 2% above inflation each year but it was scrapped in 2014. Treasury figures show that tax cuts given to the alcohol industry over the past four budgets will cost the public purse a total of £2.9 billion over five years.

Alcohol taxes can help address the low prices that fuel alcohol consumption and harm but the way they are structured and applied limits their ability to raise the price at the cheapest end of the market. That’s why it’s so important that Scotland introduces minimum unit pricing as soon as possible. Minimum pricing will set a floor price of 50p per unit, meaning that 3 litre bottle of White Ace would have to cost at least £11.25.

Taken together, increased duty on cider, minimum unit pricing and the reinstatement of the alcohol duty escalator could improve health, save lives and ease the pressure on our NHS and public services. It’s a pity the Chancellor didn’t do more in his budget to deliver these benefits.

Alison Douglas
Chief Executive, Alcohol Focus Scotland