I speak as co-chair of the cross-party drugs, alcohol and justice group, and as a member of the all-party group on alcohol harm. With dozens of alcohol-related deaths across the UK every day, those two groups decided that, rather than wait ages for the Government’s alcohol strategy, we would launch our own alcohol charter that advocates achievable steps to improve support for those in need, protect public health, and cut crime and disorder. It has the support of 30 relevant organisations, and I urge hon. Members to add their support by signing early-day motion 1682.
Despite the Chancellor’s claims of record funding for the NHS, I was disappointed that he failed to take the opportunity in the Budget to reduce alcohol harm. Instead, it seemed that he had been wooed by pre-Budget pleas for him to cut beer duty, such as the claims plastered on Westminster tube station that such a measure would protect our pubs. Cuts in duty do not benefit pubs because supermarkets continue to undercut pub prices, and big brewers retain the savings. We do not protect people or pubs by allowing supermarkets to sell alcohol more cheaply than water for vulnerable people to drink at home alone or on our streets.
Colin Shevills of Balance North East highlighted the fact that cheap alcohol places a huge burden on our communities, the NHS and our public services in our north-east. He also referred to the findings in a survey by north-east pub landlords, which found that cheap supermarket alcohol, rather than alcohol taxes, is the main reason to blame for the closure of our local pubs. It is particularly alarming that in the past five years cuts to alcohol duty have cost the Treasury about £4 billion. The Government estimate that the cost will rise to £8 billion during the next five years. That money could fund 34 million emergency ambulance call-outs or over half a million social care packages. Furthermore, figures show that, if the level of alcohol consumption remains unchallenged, it is set to cost the NHS £17 billion in the next five years.
From pub landlords to health organisations, there is strong agreement that we need a minimum unit price to help to combat the sale of cheap alcohol in shops and the impact that has on our communities. The Chancellor needs to listen to those groups and cross-party advice, and rethink his strategy on alcohol to support our great local pubs and to prioritise alcohol harm reduction.