Brighton MP Caroline Lucas has called on the government to rethink the way alcoholic drinks are taxed.
Dr Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, wants ministers to bring in minimum pricing and to use different rates of VAT to tackle Britain’s drink problem.
She wants pricing measures to prevent supermarkets from offering heavy discounts on drink which would also ease the pressure on the licensed trade and help to protect local pubs.
She said that government must overhaul its “ineffective and incoherent” policy on alcohol.
This was necessary, she said, to get to grips with Britain’s drink problem, reduce the long-term social and health impacts of alcohol, and protect the hospitality trade.
Dr Lucas has tabled two early day motions on the subject.
One of them highlights a loophole which allows super-strength white cider to dodge the stricter tax regime that applies to high strength beer.
She said that white cider is often sold cheaper than bottled water.
Early day motions are rarely debated but give MPs a chance to bring issues to the attention of ministers, fellow MPs and the wider public.
Dr Lucas, who is a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Drug and Alcohol Harm Reduction, said: “Alcohol has become such a common feature of everyday life that it’s easy to underestimate the profound impact it has on our society.
“But it’s clear that the UK does have a drink problem – with excessive drinking being a key factor in many crimes ranging from violent disorder and anti-social behaviour, to domestic violence and sexual assault.
“The costs of alcoholism in terms of lost productivity at work, together with the bill for criminal justice and health, are a vast burden on the budgets of local authorities and on public services across the country.
“In Brighton and Hove, home to my constituency, we face an annual bill of £100 million for dealing with the impact of alcohol abuse.
“But while good work is being done at the local level to open up a debate on the problem – such as the Alcohol Programme Board’s Big Alcohol Debate which kicked off in Brighton earlier this month – the government is stalling on an effective national alcohol strategy.
“The motion I’ve put down this week directly targets the ultra low priced alcohol in supermarkets and off licences which fuels our binge drinking culture.
“Pricing measures to prevent irresponsible retailers from offering heavy discounts would also reduce the pressure on the licensed trade and help to protect local pubs from closure.
“I’m also calling for super-strength white cider to be brought under the same tax regime as beer, and for local authorities to be given far more control over licensing.
“Such moves can help reduce the long-term financial burden of dealing with serious alcohol abuse and end the misery of those whose lives are blighted by it.”
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