A slice of the existing tax on alcohol should be used to tackle soaring levels of alcohol abuse which are “crippling the nation’s heathcare budgets”, councils are urging.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents almost 400 local authorities in England and Wales, who are responsible for public health, is calling for the Government to divert a fifth of the current total annual duty on alcohol to councils, so they can save the public sector billions of pounds and improve people’s lives. This £2 billion is less than a tenth of the £21 billion annual national ‘bill’ for the harm caused by excessive drinking; covering healthcare, crime and lost work productivity.
These proposals are contained in a key LGA report published in January, which is called ‘Tackling the causes and effects of alcohol misuse‘. This forms part of the LGA’s campaign ‘Investing in our nation’s future‘, which sets out what the next government needs to do in its first 100 days after May’s General Election by radically devolving power to local areas. The campaign outlines a raft of measures, which, if implemented, would save the public purse £11 billion, tackle the country’s housing crisis, ensure every child had a place at a good school, reduce long-term unemployment, address the pothole backlog and improve the nation’s health.
Devolving a portion of income from alcohol tax to councils, who are spearheading the public health campaign against alcohol abuse, would enable them to support and expand a range of innovative council initiatives. These include working with the local drinks industry to reduce the number of outlets selling high and super-strength alcohol; mapping alcohol impact when considering licensing applications; and supporting a multitude of recovery programmes.
Evidence clearly demonstrates that early intervention in tackling alcohol abuse saves the taxpayer money. For every £1 invested in specialist alcohol treatment, £5 is saved on health, welfare and crime costs.
The LGA is therefore calling for local authorities to be able to use the money to undertake much more work, for example, in schools and colleges to raise awareness; invest more in supporting town and city centres to create places where people can drink moderately and sensibly; work with the courts and the police to divert alcohol misusers with mental health problems away from the criminal justice system to free up police time; and put more resources into licensing and trading standards teams.
Councils spend about 30 per cent (£830 million a year) of their entire public health budget on drug and alcohol misuse – more than any other service. However, they say this is as much as they can afford and it is not nearly enough to tackle a national crisis. There are an estimated 1.6 million people dependent on alcohol in England alone but only 6.4 per cent of dependent drinkers access treatment.
Cllr Izzi Seccombe, Chair of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “Alcohol abuse is costing the country a staggering £21 billion a year, which is placing a huge strain on the NHS. Councils are being forced to spend almost a third of their entire public health budget on tackling drug and alcohol misuse.
“We need a radical approach to this crippling national problem that tackles the blight of alcohol dependency, helping sufferers to escape from its effects.
“By taking a portion of existing VAT we would raise billions which would help transform the lives and futures of people – including the country’s two million odd dependent drinkers – rather than simply swelling the Treasury’s coffers.
“This extra money would be a massive boost in the battle to combat alcohol dependency. It would help tackle head-on the debilitating problems often associated with the condition, such as liver failure, cirrhosis, cancer and mental health issues like depression.
“Councils are doing everything they can to curb alcohol dependency at a local level. This involves ground-breaking health and alcohol strength reduction programmes. The extra money would enable them to ramp up their efforts and really make a major impact on tackling this condition.”
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, a former President of the Royal College of Physicians and world-renowned liver specialist, said:
“This call for action from the LGA has brilliantly captured the current burden of alcohol harm in this country and the opportunity for properly resourced local initiatives to reduce it. There will always be areas where national policies will be most efficient and effective, such as setting a minimum unit price, and others, such as tackling the local night-time economy, where local government is best placed to act. Let’s work together to make sure there is coordinated national and local action for evidence-based policies to make our health better and our streets safer.”
There are also some great case studies highlighted as part of the LGA media release and I really support their strategy. If public health is now being devolved to local govt then they need to have the funding support to put in place strategies and policies to support the increasing burden of health issues caused by this substance which the NHS have to fund. What do you think?