Raise alcohol duty to fund our NHS and save lives, say leading health experts

Posted on: 29th January 2020

A rise in alcohol duty in the upcoming Budget could help fund thousands of new jobs in health and public services, say top health experts.

In a letter to the Chancellor, the Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA), a coalition of more than 50 leading UK health organisations including the British Liver Trust, calls for an increase in alcohol duty by 2% above inflation to ease pressure on public finances, tackle the harm caused by alcohol and fund our NHS.

Recent cuts to alcohol duty have cost the Government more than £1 billion every year[1] - enough to fund the salaries of 40,000 nurses or 29,000 police officers[2].

Current levels of duty – and the constant pressure to reduce them further – have been immensely costly to the Government and wider society.

Research from the University of Sheffield shows that cuts in alcohol duty since 2012 have led to:

  • 1,969 additional deaths
  • 61,386 additional hospitalisations
  • £317 million in additional costs to the NHS
  • 111,062 additional criminal offences
  • 484,727 additional days of workplace sickness absence[3]

Vanessa Hebditch, Director of Policy and Communications at the British Liver Trust, says: “Alcohol is the leading cause of liver disease, accounting for 60% of all cases. One in five adults in the UK drink in a way that could harm their liver and, sadly, around 7,700 people die from alcohol-related liver disease every year.

“The tragedy is that alcohol-related liver disease, and deaths as a result, are entirely preventable. Liver disease has increased by 400% since 1970. A rise in alcohol duty is just one way the Government can help to halt this upward trend and prevent more families from suffering as a result of alcohol-related liver disease in the future.”

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said: “Alcohol is 64% cheaper than it was thirty years ago, and its availability at these prices is encouraging more of us to drink at unhealthy levels. It is no coincidence that deaths from liver disease have increased in line with alcohol’s affordability in the UK.[4]

“In order to protect the future health of our society, the Government must take action now by increasing duty on alcohol and investing that money into our over-stretched and underfunded NHS and public services.”

Alcohol and the liver

Alcohol-related liver disease is caused by excessive consumption of alcohol, which leads to inflammation and scarring of the liver.

You don’t have to be an ‘alcoholic’ to be affected by alcohol-related liver disease. In fact, the term alcoholic is misleading, as alcohol dependency is a spectrum.

If you’re concerned about how much alcohol you drink and its effects on the liver, you can call our free nurse-led helpline or take our quick online screener for a snapshot of your general liver health.


[1] Calculations based on the estimated cost of cuts and freezes in alcohol duty since 2012 (IAS (2018). Budget analysis); (£1.2 billion)

[2]PSSRU (2018), Unit Costs of Health and Social Care 2018, the ONS estimates of median annual full-time gross pay by occupation (ONS (2019). Employee earnings in the UK: 2019).

[3] Angus, C. and Henney, M. (2019). Modelling the impact of alcohol duty policies since 2012 in England and Scotland. University of Sheffield

[4] Williams, R. et al (2015) Implementation of the Lancet Standing Commission on Liver Disease in the UK, The Lancet 386:10008, p2104