UK households’ spending on alcohol ‘up by 153% since 1987’

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UK households have increased their spending on alcohol by 153% since 1987, figures show.

The increase in spending coincided with alcohol becoming 72% more affordable in the UK over the same period, according to the NHS Digital report.

Spending on alcohol in supermarkets and off-licences but excluding pubs, bars and restaurants rose to £27.1 billion in 2020, up from £10.7 billion in 1987, figures compiled for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Family Food report show.

However, since total household spending had increased by 317% since 1987, spending on alcohol as a proportion of this had actually fallen to 2.2% over the same period from 3.5%.

The price of alcohol decreased by 4% relative to retail prices in the decade to 2020 while disposable income per adult increased by 9% over the same period, meaning alcohol had become 14% more affordable since 2010.

Drinking alcohol was the main reason for around 280,000 admissions to hospital in 2019/20 – 2% higher than in 2018/19.

The number of prescriptions for drugs to treat alcohol misuse in England was 167,000 in 2020/21, 1% higher than the year before.

Alcohol Health Alliance UK spokeswoman Sarah Schoenberger said: “The low cost of alcohol in the off-trade means England is paying a high price in terms of harm.

“With alcohol-related deaths also at record highs and millions of us drinking at harmful levels during the pandemic, urgent action is required to tackle this growing crisis.

“We welcome the Government’s plan for an alcohol duty system whereby stronger drinks always pay more tax, per unit alcohol, than weaker drinks, to help reduce alcohol harm.

“To have the biggest impact on public health, we urge the Government to go even further and increase duty rates which are at a historical low. This will address the increased affordability of alcohol and is an important step to save lives, reduce harm, and reduce the pressure on the NHS.”

Institute of Alcohol Studies chief executive Alison Giles said: “The statistics highlight the false economy of the Government’s repeated cuts and freezes to alcohol duty in recent years, which will cumulatively cost the Treasury over £16.2 billion from 2013-2027, and further increase hospital admissions and death.

“This increasing affordability needs to be tackled, such as with a duty ‘escalator’ where alcohol duty rises with inflation each year, a policy that could form part of an alcohol strategy.”

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