Daily Archives: 25/05/2016

Fresh calls to revisit £21 billion cost figure

annual cost of alcohol harmThis was an excellent write up by Alcohol Policy UK of a new article in Addiction in March looking at calls to revisit the costs of alcohol-related harm.  This is what they had to say:

A new journal article has prompted fresh calls for a comprehensive analysis into the costs of alcohol to society. The study suggests the widely cited £21 billion figure relies on data that is ‘between 4 and 12 years out of date’ and is susceptible to a number of different assumptions. See Politics UK article

Authored by Institute of Alcohol Studies’ (IAS) policy analyst Aveek Bhattacharya, the paper also argues that policy-makers, academics and non-governmental organisations should be more careful in their use of these numbers. The cost to society is often central to arguments for stronger alcohol policy – £21 billion is around double the amount generated from alcohol tax revenue. However opponents have often questioned the figure’s relevance, or inferred only ‘direct’ costs to the taxpayer should be considered. The analysis though suggest while ‘narrower’ estimates may be relevant in specific contexts, ‘optimal policy should take a holistic view of all the relevant costs and benefits’. 

No doubt then a detailed revision to the figure, which originates from a 2003 Cabinet analysis [pdf]would be widely welcomed. However a parliamentary question last year identified the Government had ‘no plans’ to commission a further review of the costs. Last year a Findings bulletin explored some of the history behind the figures, and a series of studies exploring various issues of alcohol costs to society are open access.

Why might the Government not wish to undertake this work? Perhaps because resources are increasingly under pressure, and indeed it is a complex question to answer. Crucially, identifying the ‘indirect’ costs leads to a series of difficult questions, but without which will only under-estimate the relevant costs to society. An issue that is also raised in debates over how tax may be used to recoup or indeed prevent alcohol harms and associated costs. Recent budget decisions have not been sympathetic to calls from public health groups on this issue.