Peter Rice: Families will suffer after decision to freeze alcohol duty

Chancellor Philip Hammond decided to freeze alcohol duty
Chancellor Philip Hammond decided to freeze alcohol duty
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Today’s Budget showed the many Scottish organisations who developed and supported the policy of minimum unit pricing for alcohol were right not to look to the UK government for meaningful, substantial action on the price of alcohol.

Alcohol duties are expected by HM Treasury to rise in line with prices each year. The Chancellor’s decision to freeze alcohol duty is effectively a cut and one that will cost the government £1.2 billion in revenue needed for health care, education and other public services over the next five years.

More importantly, when alcohol prices fall, people drink more and many drinkers and their families will suffer as a result.

This analysis is now well accepted in Scotland. Scottish politicians of all stripes accept we need effective regulation of alcohol price to prevent the excess of ‘pile it high, sell it cheap’ practices, which the supermarkets introduced from the mid-1990s at great cost to the health of Scots, in particular those on low incomes.

Those of us involved in campaigning on minimum unit pricing were strongly focused on white ciders.

Frontline doctors, like myself, saw the harm these products caused to patients and their families. Their cheapness made it easy for heavy drinkers to increase their consumption even further and the already slippery slope became steeper and more hazardous.

I, with others, campaigned at the UK level for action to change the minimal tax on strong cider, but the Chancellor’s promise of action turned out to be a minor tweak with tax bands that will do little to curb these dangerous products.

So thank heavens for minimum unit pricing, which will be introduced in Scotland on 1 May. This will control the price of the cheapest, most harmful products – something yesterday’s Budget failed to do.

Alcohol causes a lot of harm and the industry should pay its way.

With MUP, Scotland will avoid the worst of the health impacts of this Budget, but the rest of the UK will see rising rates of liver disease and alcohol related cancers. That is a tragedy.

l Dr Peter Rice is chair of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP)