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Resist drinks lobby, Osborne told

The Chancellor - named Beer Drinker of the Year last year for scrapping a planned 3p rise in beer duty - must resist industry pressure and "crack down" on cheap drink, a health expert has said.

George Osborne should use next week's Budget to show he will not " succumb" to industry influence to ditch completely the duty escalator for all alcohol, according to Katherine Brown, director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies.

If Mr Osborne did give in to lobbying from the drinks industry, the cost to the Treasury would be £110 million in 2014/5, she added.

"This sum could fund 2,587 alcohol nurses in emergency departments, 468,085 ambulance call-outs, or 723,684 days of inpatient detoxification services," Ms Brown wrote in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

"For the Government to renege on yet another commitment to tackle the affordability of alcohol, and at the same time deprive the public purse of millions of pounds of tax revenue, would be a gross injustice to British society and to our public services, which are struggling to cope with the burden alcohol poses day in, day out," she added.

"The Chancellor should maintain the alcohol duty escalator and stand by the government's commitment to crack down on cheap drink."

Last year, Mr Osborne scrapped a planned 3p rise in beer duty and replaced it with a 1p cut in the price of a pint.

This led to the industry-supported All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group handing him a trophy for Beer Drinker of the Year.

In accepting the award, Mr Osborne said it was a "symbol that Parliament cares about this industry and Parliament cares about people employed in this industry".

The alcohol duty escalator has been in place since 2008 to ensure that the price of alcohol rises at 2% above the rate of inflation.

Ms Brown wrote: "Now we are seeing yet another assault on alcohol pricing policies from the wine and spirits sector.

"The 'call time on duty' campaign is being led by the Wine and Spirits Trade Association, the Scotch Whisky Association, and the Taxpayers' Alliance, and calls on the Chancellor to 'be fair George!' and to call time on the 'alcohol supertax'.

"But, given the burden of harm to society that results from cheap drink and often to innocent bystanders, would this be fair to the public as a whole?"

Ms Brown said there were more than 8,700 d eaths related to alcohol and 1.2 million hospital admissions related to alcohol in the UK each year, and alcohol was estimated to cost society more than £21 billion.

Alcohol was also 61% more affordable today than in 1980, she said.

She added: "Evidence from the UK and abroad shows that reducing affordability is the most powerful tool at a government's disposal to tackle the problems associated with alcohol.

"Such problems are experienced not only by individual drinkers but by families, communities, and frontline workers, including healthcare staff in emergency departments and ambulance services as well as the police."

She said "society simply can't afford for such cheap drink to get cheaper".

WSTA chief executive, Miles Beale, said: " The alcohol duty escalator was introduced as a revenue-raising measure.

"Since 2008, duty has increased by 50% on wine and 44% on spirits, which has undermined a great British industry, harmed pubs and hit responsible drinkers in the pocket.

"Independent economic research has found scrapping the escalator would create 6,000 new jobs and boost the public finances by £230 million in 2014 alone, while polling shows 80% of Brits do not believe there should be further tax hikes on wine and spirits.

"The escalator has overstayed its welcome and it's time for the Chancellor to scrap this punitive super-tax."


From Belfast Telegraph