Abbott hits out at coalition over alcohol policy

Diane Abbott

Hackney MP Diane Abbott has accused the coalition government of being “in the pocket of big business” in a scathing attack on its alcohol policy.

The attack follows a report in the Lancet medical journal last week in which government health advisors alleged that close ties with drinks industry were influencing policy.

Last week the government announced plans to set a minimum price for alcohol to tackle problem drinking. But health experts have said the new “base level” – 38p for a can of lager, £2.03 for a bottle of wine and £10.71 for a bottle of vodka – is too low to have an impact.

The Lancet report, written by three leading doctors, two of whom sit on the Department of Health’s Responsibility Deal Alcohol Network, said: “These policies suggest the government is too close to the industry and lacks clear aspiration to reduce the impact of cheap, readily available, and heavily marketed alcohol on individuals and on society.”

The report predicted if the government did not act to counter current trends, 77,000 more people could die from liver disease by 2031. More than 30,000 people die from liver disease in the UK each year. This figure has more than doubled in the past 25 years.

Ms Abbott, Shadow Health Secretary, said the government was not doing enough to lower Britain’s alcohol consumption and said that a new strategy, including regulations on drinks advertising, should be considered.

“Before the election, all David Cameron talked about was ‘broken Britain’. Now he is in government, all he is delivering broken promises,” said the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.

“Instead of simply decrying everyone as drunken anti-social louts, we should be tackling the root causes of these problems.”

Drinks companies spend £800 million a year on advertising Ms Abbott added.

The Lancet report suggests that the wider effects of alcohol consumption, such as accidents and violence, could mean as many 250,000 more deaths if current trends continue.

The Department of Health defended the government’s record on problem drinking, pointing out that along with the minimum pricing plan, the department also intended to introduce a tougher licensing regime.

A spokesperson for the department said: “We are taking a bold new approach to public health.

“Our recent white paper set out our plan to ring-fence public health spending and give power to local communities to improve the health of local people. We will also be publishing a new alcohol strategy to follow on from the Public Health White Paper in the summer.”

The government has faced criticism in recent weeks over its pledge to protect health funding. The NHS budget increase has been limited to 0.1 per cent, but health leaders have said that ever-increasing demands on the health service will mean that efficiencies of up £20 billion will have to be found, including the loss of front line staff.

A recent report by the NHS Confederation predicted that binge drinking will cost the NHS £3.8 billion by 2015, with 1.5 million A&E admissions a year.

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