The real price of alcohol - counting the cost in the north east

July 13, 2017

New figures released today by Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, reveal the estimated cost for alcohol harm to the North East, hitting front line public services and employers with a staggering bill of around £1.01bn in 2015/16.

High alcohol consumption is taking its toll on taxpayers and businesses every year through hospital admissions, crime and disorder, sickness, absenteeism and lost productivity among staff working for North East employers, and in social services support for families affected by alcohol issues.

These figures would equate to £386 per head for every man, woman and child in the North East, compared to an average national figure of £363.

In 2015/16 alcohol was estimated to have cost the North East:

  • £209 million in NHS and healthcare for services such as hospital admissions, A&E attendances, ambulance callouts and also treatment for alcohol dependency.
  • £331 million in crime and disorder, including 55,300 cases of criminal damage, 154,900 cases of theft and 20,000 cases of violence against the person.
  • £353 million lost to local businesses and employers through absenteeism, lost productivity and alcohol related deaths, including 548,400 days off and 8,249 potential years of working life lost due to alcohol related deaths.
  • £121 million in costs to children and adults’ social services and substance misuse services.

Colin Shevills, Director at Balance, said: “All of us are paying dearly for alcohol misuse, whether people drink or not.  High alcohol consumption wrecks families, impacts on workplaces and is a drain on the NHS and police at a time when they are coping with huge budget pressures.

“Meanwhile alcohol is promoted around the clock on TV, billboards and social media, and sold too cheaply through cut price deals in supermarkets and convenience stores, especially in poorer areas where people suffer the worst ill health.

“What is needed now is action at national level to put health and public services above the interests of major alcohol corporations.

"Pricing alcohol by its strength and increasing tax on the type of strong cheap white cider popular with street drinkers and teenagers would save lives and reduce the burden on our front line services.”

Amanda Healy, Director of Public Health for Durham County Council and chair of the North East Directors of Public Health Network said: “The figures are stark and they demonstrate the scale of the problem that alcohol causes in worsening poverty, fuelling ill health and causing crime.

“If we as a region were able to reduce our drinking, we would not only lower our personal risks but it would also ease the considerable pressure on front line staff in our police forces, our social care sector and in our hospital wards.

“There is a perception that the profits from alcohol more than cover any harm, but what these figures show is that this is just a myth and we are all paying. We need national action to reduce the cut price drink deals that are fuelling the problem and have an honest discussion about alcohol advertising which can only promote the idea that everyday drinking is normal.”

These figures show alcohol is costing us more than it is generating. An evidence review of the public health burden of alcohol published by Public Health England in December 2016 estimated the annual cost of alcohol to the UK to be between 1.3% and 2.7% of annual GDP - between £27 billion and £52 billion in 2016. In comparison, tax and duty on alcohol generate around £10bn to the exchequer each year.  

The North East’s three Police and Crime Commissioners have also called for more to be done to reduce the cost of alcohol consumption.

Ron Hogg, Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner for County Durham and Darlington, said: “These figures highlight the stark reality of the devastating impact that alcohol places on our society, on the lives of victims and of whole communities. Tackling this problem is a shared responsibility. Police, councils, government, industry and the drinkers themselves all have a role to play in reducing the harm, and cost implications, caused by excessive alcohol.”

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Dame Vera Baird QC, said: "The cost of alcohol misuse to our society is enormous. It contributes to crime, unwelcome behaviours and can cause people to find themselves in very vulnerable, dangerous situations.  I will continue to lobby and challenge the Government, partners and the industry to drive culture change. We need to ensure anyone who needs support gets it and to see an end to cheap alcohol sales - it's time for change."

Police and Crime Commissioner for Cleveland, Barry Coppinger, said: “It’s concerning to hear that alcohol cost the North East £331m in crime and disorder in 2015/16, particularly at a time when police resources are continuing to struggle against cuts from central government. Action must be taken to ease this pressure on emergency services, while prioritising the health of the public.”

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