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£1bn alcohol tax giveaways would fund the salaries of 40,000 nurses

What would you choose – annual tax giveaways of more than £1 billion to support the alcohol industry or paying the salaries of 40,000 nurses?

That’s the question posed by a new campaign launching today (10 July) by the Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA), of which Humankind is a member.

The campaign is calling on the Government to increase alcohol duty by 2% above inflation in this year’s Budget, to fund public health and prevention services.

It comes as the NHS faces a desperate shortage of staff. According to the Royal College of Nursing, there are currently nearly 40,000 nurse vacancies – one in nine posts – which alcohol duty increases could help to fund.

Alcohol continues to cause substantial harm to families and communities across the UK. It costs the NHS £3.5 billion every year with the total societal costs of alcohol estimated at around £21 billion annually.

Every day, more than 80 people die of alcohol-related causes across the UK and there are more than one million alcohol-related hospital admissions each year. In a recent report published in Addiction Journal, a staggering one in five patients in the UK hospital system use alcohol harmfully and one in 10 is alcohol dependent.

Alcohol treatment can be fundamental to help people turn their lives around, however budgets for public health services have been cut substantially. Now, only one in five people who need alcohol treatment can access it.

Eddie who successfully completed treatment at the Humankind-led service, Forward Leeds supports the campaign: “Before I started treatment for my alcohol addiction my life was on a downward spiral and I had lost contact with my family. Thanks to Forward Leeds I'm now back in my families lives and am determined to be the dad and grandad they deserve.”

Meanwhile, annual tax giveaways to support the alcohol industry are costing the Treasury more than £1 billion every year – money which could, for example, fund the salaries of 40,000 nurses or 28,500 police officers.

Paul Townsley, Chief Executive of Humankind, said: “We badly need stable funding and commissioning so that we can provide much more effective interventions to the people who need our services.

“This situation is due, in part, to funding shortages and this increase in alcohol duty to fund public health and prevention services would have a huge impact for harmful drinkers. While alcohol treatment commissioning is overseen by local authority Public Health teams through a ring-fenced local authority public health grant, alcohol treatment is not ring-fenced itself within this grant. As a result, many stretched local authorities have begun to cut funding to these services. This situation looks only set to worsen as the ring-fencing of the public health grant is set to be removed altogether in 2020.”

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said: “While the alcohol industry continues to receive tax breaks and make big profits, people are experiencing significant harms associated with alcohol.

“The cost to society is huge and we are all paying the price. Budget cuts to public services are widening health inequalities and vulnerable people are falling through the net. With the NHS and public services under pressure, it is astonishing that a billion pounds in tax revenue is missed out on every year, to support Big Alcohol. We are urging the Government to prioritise reducing the harm that alcohol causes, instead of supporting the drinks companies that fuel it.

“According to a host of independent experts, including the World Health Organisation, increasing alcohol taxes is one of the most effective and cost-effective ways to reduce alcohol harm and it can save lives. We know that the majority of the public are willing to pay higher taxes for alcohol if the money goes into funding public services impacted by alcohol use, such as the NHS and police.”

Although a common misperception, increasing alcohol duty does not hurt the pub trade. Professor Gilmore continued: “The alcohol industry might have us believe that tax increases are harming Britain’s local pubs – but that is not actually true. The evidence shows that duty cuts do not benefit pubs, instead they accelerate the shift towards supermarkets, making it harder for pubs to compete.”

The AHA is encouraging people to back the campaign and write to their MP.