Budget alcohol announcement criticised by churches

By agency reporter
19 Mar 2014

Three major British Churches have criticised government plans to scrap the alcohol duty escalator as announced in the Chancellor's Budget speech today (19 March 2014).

The Baptist Union of Great Britain, Methodist Church and United Reformed Church say that George Osborne's announcement is 'irresponsible', signalling good news for the drinks industry, while the taxpayer is left to bear the social and financial costs of problem drinking.

The full statement reads: "Once again, George Osborne has presented a budget with good news for the drinks industry, but little reassurance that the Government cares about the harm caused by alcohol misuse. In 2013, as well as abandoning its commitment to the medically-backed policy of minimum unit pricing for alcohol, the Government abolished the alcohol duty escalator on beer. The escalator required duty on alcoholic drinks to rise at two per cent above inflation from 2008 to 2015. For decades, successive Governments have kept duty on alcohol at historically low levels, particularly for wine and spirits; it would be even lower without the escalator.

"As alcoholic drinks have become more affordable - an estimated 61 per cent more affordable since 1980 – the harm caused by alcohol misuse has increased, and already costs the UK £21 billion per year. The duty escalator on alcoholic drinks other than beer is the only surviving measure against dangerously cheap and strong ciders and spirits. Abolishing it is irresponsible and sends a signal that the Government supports business profits while passing the social and financial costs of problem drinking on to the taxpayer.

"Research shows that introducing a minimum unit price on alcohol would have a significant impact on problem drinking. Doctors, healthcare professionals and charities have long expressed their support for such a measure and we would strongly urge Mr Osborne and his colleagues to look again at this option."

* Ekklesia's 2014 Budget coverage: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/budget2014

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