United Kingdom: Drinkers ‘subsidising’ non-drinkers by £6.5 billion a year
A drain on taxpayers? Drinkers pay their dues three times over, new study claims
Source: The Telegraph
By John Bingham, Social Affairs Editor
3 Sep 2015
Drinkers are “subsidising” non-drinkers to the tune of £6.5 billion a year, according to a provocative new study rejecting the argument that alcohol is a massive drain on the nation’s productivity.
Far from being a financial burden on taxpayers, people who enjoy alcohol pay the cost of dealing with drink-related social problems almost three times over in tax every year, the analysis by the Institute of Economic Affairs, the free-market think-tank, argues.
The paper calculates that the NHS, police, the criminal justice and welfare systems in England collectively spend £3.9 billion a year dealing with the fallout from excessive alcohol consumption.
But that figure is eclipsed by the £10.4 billion a year it says the Treasury gains in alcohol duty in England.
It argues that taxes on drink could be halved and still leave the Government firmly in profit.
A Salvation Army band plays prior to kickoff during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Everton at the Liberty Stadium in SwanseaOnce associated with groups such as the Salvation Army, recent figures showed teetotalism has become mainstream among young people Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images
Alcohol charities said the wider social cost of Britain’s current drinking levels remain “unaffordable” and insisted that non-drinkers are still suffering the consequences “every day”.
But Christopher Snowdon, author of the report, said: “It is time to stop pretending that drinkers are a burden on taxpayers.
“Drinkers are taxpayers and they pay billions of pounds more than they cost the NHS, police service and welfare system combined.
“The economic evidence is very clear on this – 40 per cent of the EU’s entire alcohol tax bill is paid by drinkers in Britain and, as this new research shows, teetotallers in England are being subsidised by drinkers to the tune of at least six and a half billion pounds a year.”
Binge drinkers should be fined for going to hospital, campaigner suggestsHealth campaigners say the social cost of alcohol is ‘unaffordable’ Photo: GETTY
An often quoted Government study, published just over a decade ago calculated that the total cost of alcohol to society as £20 billion a year when the impact of dealing with drink-related crime, injuries, accidents, diseases and unemployment are included.
But that study includes large estimates of the possible wider “social cost” of drinking as well as expenses potentially incurred by individuals, rather than the direct cost to taxpayers.
Despite this it is often set against the tax take from alcohol.
Plans to ban the pint glass from pubs throughout the Highlands of Scotland have sparked outrage. Drinkers pay for hemselves almost three times over, the report finds Photo: PA
“It is not unusual for temperance and public health campaigners to compare the £20 billion societal cost estimate with the £10 billion revenue the Government receives in alcohol duty,” the IEA report notes.
“The implication is that drinkers do not pay their way and alcohol taxes should be higher, but it is an apples and oranges comparison.”
It adds: “Our estimates suggest that the net cost of alcohol to the state is minus £6.5 billion pounds, which is to say that drinkers subsidise non-drinkers to the order of £6.5 billion pounds a year.
“The Government could halve all forms of alcohol duty and still receive more in tax than it spends dealing with alcohol-related problems.”
But Emily Robinson, deputy chief executive of Alcohol Concern said: “The costs of alcohol related harm have been clearly identified by the Government.
“The NHS faces a bill of £3.5 billion every year and alcohol related crime costs £11 billion.
“In total alcohol costs society £21 billion – this is unaffordable in today’s economic environment.
“Non-drinkers suffer the consequences of alcohol related problems every day; whether that’s from drink driving accidents, being the victim of crime or anti-social behaviour, family breakdown, waiting in Accident and Emergency departments for their turn, even through to the costs of street cleaning town centres after a Friday night.
“That’s why we need to get a grip on the harm caused by alcohol through effective policies such as minimum unit pricing.”