Alcohol tax urged to fund abstinence-based rehab

Pouring a drink Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The Centre for Social Justice says the cost of addiction is rising because it is fuelling an increase in hospital admissions

Drink and drug addicts should be treated in abstinence-based treatment centres paid for with a new tax on alcohol, a think tank has urged.

The Centre for Social Justice said that by 2024, a ring-fenced "treatment tax" would put up the cost of alcohol bought in shops by 2p per unit.

It is among a number of measures recommended to tackle addiction.

The Department of Health said councils' £5.4bn public health budgets would help them address alcohol harm.

The CSJ, which seeks to tackle poverty and its causes, wants the government to fund treatment centres for 58,000 addicts per year by 2024.

Its report says 300,000 people in England are addicted to opiates and/or crack, 1.6 million are dependent on alcohol and one in seven children under the age of one lives with a substance-abusing parent.

The measures set out in its Ambitious for Recovery report include:

  • Scrapping the drug advice site FRANK, which it says does not send "a strong signal to young people about the risks of experimenting with drugs"
  • Involving job centres in identifying and helping addicts, with jobseekers "screened for addiction"
  • Offering benefit claimants with addiction problems support and "abstinence-based" treatment with the threat of sanctions if help is refused
  • Piloting a charge card for long-term unemployed parents with serious addiction problems to restrict how they spend any income support to essential items only
  • Doing more to tackle so-called legal highs and educate young people and parents about their dangers

Little choice

The treatment tax proposal would see a levy of 1p per unit of alcohol added on drinks purchased outside pubs by the end of the next Parliament, rising to 2p by 2024, the CSJ said.

This could mean about 18p added to the price of a bottle of wine after 2024.

The think tank estimated it would raise £155m a year from 2015, rising to about £520m a year from 2024.

Image caption Christian Guy: "We just dump drug addicts on methadone."

The CSJ's director, Christian Guy, told BBC Breakfast: "At the moment we do very little for alcoholics, and for drug addicts we just dump them on methadone.

"The chance to get clean in this country is the preserve of the wealthy. For the poor, for the people relying on a public system, there's very little choice to get clean."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We are not considering a tax on particular drinks.

"Instead, we are reducing alcohol harm by giving local authorities a £5.4bn budget to help them manage public health issues including alcohol and drug services.

"We have also banned sales of the cheapest cut-price alcohol."

Local authorities had the best understanding of local needs to be able to assess, plan and deliver alcohol and drug services and treatment in their areas, he added.

Duty to help

Sally Marlow, an alcohol addiction specialist, said there were "problems with the proposal".

But she added: "If we're going to sell it, if we're going to legitimise it and say we sanction alcohol then we have a duty also to say to the people who get into trouble with it, 'we'll help you with it - we'll help you get out of the trouble that you're in'."

The CSJ made a similar proposal in 2007 when the current Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith was in charge of the think tank.

The BBC understands Mr Duncan Smith continues to support the idea.

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