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SHAAP calls for UK Government to stand firm in face of pressure from whisky industry
Tackling Scotland's Alcohol Problem

SHAAP has written to the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, encouraging him to stand firm in the face of lobbying for a duty freeze by the whisky industry and Scotland’s First Minister, Humza Yousaf.

The letter states “claims by the alcohol industry that they are being treated unfairly by the duty changes do not stand up to scrutiny” as even after the planned increase to duty in August, in real terms spirits – including whisky – will be subject to 23% lower duty than ten years ago.

Talking about the letter, SHAAP Chair, Dr Alastair MacGilchrist, said:

“People are dying early because of alcohol, and the main driver behind this is price. The cheaper alcohol is, the more is consumed and the greater the harms. Therefore, to argue for lower duty on behalf of the whisky industry, Scotland’s First Minister is being inconsistent with his own government’s aim of using minimum unit pricing of alcohol as a means to reduce harm. Increasing duty and setting a floor price for alcohol should go hand-in-hand.

“By modernising the alcohol duty system and increasing duty rates in line with inflation, the UK Government is now using duty to improve public health, albeit on the back of ten years of cuts and freezes which means that it’s thought around 250 additional people have died because of alcohol in Scotland. What we now need to see is a system that covers the costs of alcohol harms to the economy and public purse as well as reducing the number of people needlessly dying because of alcohol.”


Letter contents:

11 May 2023

Dear Prime Minister

Following your recent meeting with Scotland’s new First Minister, Humza Yousaf, I am writing to encourage you to stand firm in your government’s plan to increase alcohol duty in line with inflation in August. Alcohol duty has been cut or frozen in 9 of the last 10 years so now alcohol is more affordable than ten years ago. These duty cuts and freezes will have cost the Treasury £23.9 billion in lost revenue from 2013 – 2028 (Institute of Alcohol Studies, 2023). Because the affordability of alcohol is closely linked to the harm it causes, it is estimated that these cuts and freezes caused the deaths of over 250 additional people in Scotland and almost 2,000 in England between 2012 and 2019 (University of Sheffield, 2019). Even after the duty increase in August, in real terms all duties will be dramatically lower than they were in 2012/13, with spirits (including whisky) being 23% lower.

The claims by the alcohol industry that they are being treated unfairly by the duty changes do not stand up to scrutiny. I would urge you to use the new duty system and increased rates from August as a starting point from which to aim towards a progressive model where duty is used to both improve public health and to cover the costs of alcohol harms to the economy and public purse. This way we will reduce the significant burden that alcohol poses to our health and wellbeing as individuals and as a society.

We would be happy to discuss this issue with you further.

Best wishes,

Dr Alastair MacGilchrist

Chair, SHAAP

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