- UK’s post Brexit ‘Internal Market Bill’ may limit Northern Ireland’s capacity to introduce Minimum pricing for alcohol products.
Alcohol Action Ireland, the independent advocate for reducing alcohol harm, has today (Thursday 17thSeptember) published its Pre-Budget submission in which it advises the Minister for Finance not to provide a stimulus to even greater alcohol consumption.
Central to its submission, Alcohol Action, advises the Minister on three specific matters:
- The retention of existing excise duties on alcohol products and the introduction of a cost-of-living index on all rates going forward.
- Removal of opposition to the commencement of minimum unit pricing (MUP) and support its immediate implementation, and
- The introduction of a Social Responsibility levy on all Off-Trade sales, and an increase to all licence renewals, to fund expansion of alcohol preventive and recovery and treatment programmes by €80m annually.
Despite all the pubs being closed since the COVID-19 restrictions of March, and only half re-opened since early July, indications are that Ireland’s alcohol use has only declined by 4%. Trade data has consistently demonstrated that Off-Trade sales are booming, as more and more drinkers shift their alcohol use into their homes having unearthed the exceptional affordability of alcohol in the retail market.
Excise rates on alcohol have remained unchanged since 2013, and in the period since 2000, there has only been three alterations to the rates. Since the introduction of the euro (2002), excise rate on beer has increased by 13.48% while the Consumer Price Index inflation figure for the same period stands at 27.4% (CSO).
In its submission, AAI outline that government can no longer rely on a notional economic rationale to delay the introduction of a proven public health measure. Alcohol related inpatient care is currently costing the public health system €36.8m every week in Ireland. The nature of the fiscal and monetary concerns voiced by the opponents of the measure are spurious insomuch as their construct are beyond the specific intention of MUP.
Currency fluctuations, VAT differential and the relative price differential remain the principal factors in such considerations. These factors, added to consumer choices, ultimately determine the purchase point of alcohol for communities both sides of the Irish/UK border. Ensuring that cheap, strong alcohol cannot be sold in Ireland beneath a certain price is unlikely to contribute any further impetus to an already well-established practice and trade.
Furthermore, given the post Brexit legislative proposals now being pursued within the UK government’s Internal Market Bill, the submission highlights the possible impact on the Northern Ireland’s Executive’s capacity to advance devolved public health measures.
A modest levy on the Off-Trade sales (2019 value: €3.78billion), applied as a ‘Social Responsibility Levy’’ could yield annually, at 2% : €76m.
Additionally, AAI advised the Minister to increase the annual cost of renewal of a Retailer’s Off-Licence from €500 to €1000. This measure could yield an additional €3.67m in a full year to the Exchequer. This annualised fund of approximately €80m could fund expansion of alcohol preventive initiatives and adequate recovery and treatment programmes, particularly for those impacted by parental alcohol misuse.
Alcohol-related inpatient care currently costs the public health system €36.8m every week in Ireland – the equivalent of 245,000 COVID tests; €1.91bn annually at 11% of all public healthcare expenditure. The wider societal cost, inclusive of alcohol related impacts to the social care, criminal justice, productivity and social protection expenditure, as well as the unknown loss of creativity and enterprise, is in excess of €3.6bn annually.
Commenting on the submission, Eunan McKinney, AAI Head of Communications, said:
“The central tenet of our advice to the Minister is to resist the relentless demands from alcohol producers to reduce alcohol excise duties and postpone the implementation of minimum unit pricing. The Minister needs to stand firm with the positive rational of public health alcohol policy that seeks to reduce alcohol consumption not stimulate demand with further industry supports. Equally, the Minister can support an immediate introduction of minimum unit pricing, which despite being enacted two years ago still has yet to be implemented.
Budget 2021 can take a significant step to establish an annualised public funding stream, via a levy on a demerit good, for consistent preventative and adequate treatment programmes.”