The real price of alcohol - counting the cost in Northumberland

Alcohol abuse.
Alcohol abuse.

New figures released today by Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, reveal the estimated cost for alcohol harm to Northumberland, hitting front line public services and employers with a staggering bill of around £107.7 million 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 Northumberland employers, and in social services support for families affected by alcohol issues.

Infographic

Infographic

These figures would equate to £341 for every man, woman and child in Northumberland.

In 2015/16 alcohol was estimated to have cost Northumberland:

· £25 million in NHS and healthcare for services such as hospital admissions, A&E attendance, ambulance callouts and also treatment for alcohol dependency.

· £30.7 million in crime and disorder, including 5,100 cases of criminal damage, 9,300 cases of theft and 1,500 cases of violence against the person.

· £40.2 million lost to local businesses and employers through absenteeism, lost productivity and alcohol related deaths, including 66,500 days off due to alcohol.

· £11.7 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.”

Northumberland County Councillor Veronica Jones, cabinet member for Adult Wellbeing and Health, said: “The results of harmful drinking affects our most vulnerable individuals, families and communities in Northumberland, and this latest report suggests harmful drinking has a particularly high impact on health - we know that alcohol is a cause of at least 60 different diseases including cancer and liver disease.”

Liz Morgan, Interim Director of Public Health at Northumberland County Council said: “Locally, action is required across a range of partners to identify people who are at risk from harmful drinking and support them to reduce their alcohol intake. We are bringing together all those working to reduce alcohol-related harm, to think about what is working well and to identify the opportunities for further improvement.

“To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level, the latest guidelines for both men and women is not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis. A free tool is available on the Alcohol Concern website, to see whether you or someone you know is at risk from alcohol related harm. Or, if you are worried about your own drinking, you can receive confidential advice from the Northumberland Recovery Partnership on 01670 396 303 or through your GP.”

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.”

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 £10billion to the exchequer each year.