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Osborne ignores warnings on alcohol
Chancellor George Osborne has ignored advice from leading medics by abandoning above-inflation tax duties on alcohol.
Mr Osborne announced plans to scrap the alcohol duty escalator - despite warnings from health experts in the run-up to the Budget.
In February, the Alcohol Health Alliance warned that axing the escalator would be "madness".
In a letter to the Chancellor it said that if ministers scrapped the duty rise it would put "even more pressure on public services and frontline workers".
The alliance - which is made up of leading health bodies including the Royal College of Physicians, the British Medical Association, charity Alcohol Concern and the Institute of Alcohol Studies - called on Mr Osborne to maintain the alcohol duty escalator - which normally goes up by inflation plus 2% each year.
But Mr Osborne scrapped the escalator, saying: "We've introduced new laws to prevent alcohol being sold below minimum tax rates, and this helps prevent supermarkets undercutting pubs, and helps stop problem drinking.
"It's a far more targeted approach than the alcohol duty escalator hated by many responsible drinkers."
He said that the duties on alcohol would rise with inflation.
But other alcohol duties have been frozen altogether.
"Scottish Whisky is a huge British success story," he said.
"To support that industry, instead of raising duties on whisky and other spirits, I am today going to freeze them.
"And with some cider makers in the West Country hit hard by the recent weather, I am going to help them by freezing the duty on ordinary cider too."
Katherine Brown, director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said: "Today's announcement to scrap the alcohol duty escalator is staggering. With alcohol costing the country £21 billion a year, and alcohol-related hospital admissions more than doubling over the last ten years, it comes as a shock to learn that the Chancellor believes that it is right to further incentivise drinking by making alcohol cheaper.
"Alcohol is 61% more affordable today than it was in 1980 and current duty rates for strong white cider amount to just 6p per unit. Yet the Chancellor appears to think that this isn't cheap enough.
"This decision, similar to the u-turn on minimum pricing, has been taken following an intense and aggressive lobbying campaign from the drinks industry. It is yet more evidence to suggest the Government has turned its back on public health and frontline workers such as nurses and police offers, who have to mop up the mess that alcohol creates day in day out.
"It is yet another sad day to see how the profits of multinational alcohol producers have been prioritised over public health and safety."
Eric Appleby, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, added: "Once again this Government has cast aside the health of the nation to protect the interests of big alcohol.
"The notion that this freeze is about protecting responsible drinkers is irresponsible spin - alcohol misuse costs us all £21 billion a year, our hospitals weigh under the burden of it and our police forces are stretched to the limit because of it. Instead of taking serious, evidence-based action the Chancellor has given the alcohol industry the green light to make bigger profits at all of our expense.
"This freeze makes a mockery of the Government's ban on below cost sales, rendering it even less effective than it would have been.
"Until we treat alcohol misuse as the huge public health issue it is, like smoking, we will all continue to pay billions to deal with it."