Lord Brooke: Government has 'no sense of direction' in reducing devastating alcohol harm

Posted On: 
30th March 2017

The Government committed to reducing the impact of cheap alcohol in a 2012 Coalition Government strategy, but Lord Brooke says this has not happened.

Alcohol is now the leading cause of death among 15-49 year olds, says Lord Brooke.
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After Welfare, the cost of Health is the second biggest charge which Chancellors of the Exchequer have to deal with. Yet if one examines Budget speeches it rarely gets a mention, although in fairness to Phillip Hammond it did this year because of the crisis in Care which is directly linked to Health.

Health costs continue to grow at around 4% per annum but the economy is down around 2%. So with an aging population,the 'health service car crash' as one recent ex health service minister described it, every action must be taken or at least explored to avoid further injury or collapse

Like The Queen, the NHS is one of the few remaining pieces of glue that keeps us together as a United Kingdom. People everywhere are increasingly fearful of what the future holds. But happily for the UK at least for the moment - our people do not have the fears that illnesses bring to many overseas - the fear of how to pay for their treatment. That burden is lifted by the NHS and it helps faster recovery. But it is at risk even if politicians are reluctant to engage in an honest and open debate about it.

That is what is at the heart of my debate - seeking changes that will reduce not only burgeoning public health costs but lead to healthier, happier and longer lives. As part of that, the Government must confront the stark challenge that alcohol abuse presents for the NHS in terms of financial costs, resources and impact on staff time and welfare.

Alcohol is estimated to cost the NHS around £3.5bn per year, which amounts to £120 for every taxpayer

Even though drinking has declined marginally, there is a growing burden of alcohol related admissions and “activity” as our NHS tries to deal with the consequences of harmful drinking. This is not surprising when Public Health (England) recently reported:-

  • Alcohol is now the leading cause of death among 15 to 49 year olds
  • There are now more than a million alcohol-related hospital admissions a year
  • Alcohol caused more years of life lost to the workforce than from the 10 most cancers
  • In England more than 10 million are drinking at levels that increase the risk of harming health

There are 23,000 deaths related to alcohol in England each year, meaning that alcohol accounts for 10% of the UK burden of disease and death and is one of the three biggest avoidable risk factors of them.

Evidence indicates that the ease of access, availability and persistently cheap alcohol perpetuates these problems with deprivation and health inequalities particularly prevalent amongst men from lower socio-economic groups.

Alcohol is 60% more affordable today than it was in 1980. Affordability is one of the key drivers of consumption and harm: cheaper alcohol invariably leads to higher rates of death and disease.

David Cameron and the Coalition Government recognised this back in 2012 when they produced their progressive Alcohol Strategy. In its foreword he wrote”..and a real effort to get to grips with the root cause of the problem.That means coming down hard on cheap alcohol”

That hasn’t happened. Other aspects of the strategy have disappeared. There seems to be a vacuum with no discernible sense of direction. I will be pressing for one - the NHS certainly needs it.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe is a Labour peer in the House of Lords