Call to freeze beer duty as pubs ‘good for health’

Birmingham Post - - NEWS - Jonathan Walker Po­lit­i­cal Ed­i­tor

DUTY on beer should be frozen... be­cause trips to the pub make you hap­pier and health­ier, an MP has claimed.

Re­searchers sug­gested the link be­tween beer drink­ing and health in a re­port which was seized upon by Dud­ley South MP Mike Wood this week.

But Con­ser­va­tive MP Mr Wood told min­is­ters that high rates of duty was turn­ing peo­ple away from their lo­cal.

Lead­ing a Com­mons de­bate, he said: “Peo­ple who drink in mod­er­a­tion in a pub are more likely to be health­ier and reg­is­ter higher lev­els of hap­pi­ness than peo­ple who do not drink at all. They are also likely to be bet­ter fed, with al­most one bil­lion pub meals sold an­nu­ally.”

Mr Wood added: “Re­search at Ox­ford Univer­sity by Pro­fes­sor Robin Dun­bar con­cluded that pubs play ex­actly that kind of vi­tal role in tack­ling so­cial iso­la­tion and con­tribut­ing to well­be­ing. Peo­ple with a lo­cal are likely to be bet­ter off fi­nan­cially, phys­i­cally and so­cially. They are likely to have a wider cir­cle of friends. In a week when re­searchers have shown again the clear link be­tween strength of so­cial net­works and resilience to con­di­tions such as de­men­tia, the so­cial value... could not be more im­por­tant.”

But higher beer duty put up the price of a drink and stopped peo­ple go­ing to the pub, he said, adding: “There has been a sug­ges­tion that duty changes have lit­tle or no im­pact on beer sales in pubs. That is sim­ply not true and is not con­sis­tent with the avail­able ev­i­dence.”

Mr Wood called on the Chan­cel­lor to freeze beer duty in the Bud­get later this month, say­ing: “I have no doubt that if the cur­rent Chan­cel­lor freezes beer duty, the whole Trea­sury team would be car­ried shoul­der high across White­hall.”

And he pointed out that the beer in­dus­try was a ma­jor em­ployer.

He said: “If the Mid­lands is the en­gine of the Bri­tish econ­omy, beer is surely the fuel that helps to power that en­gine, and like all fuel, it needs to be well looked af­ter.

“My Dud­ley South con­stituency is home to four brew­ers – Bathams, Black Coun­try Ales, Ma Par­does and the Pig Iron brew­ery – and no fewer than 75 pubs.”

He added: “The UK now has more than 2,000 brew­eries, pro­duc­ing 25 mil­lion bar­rels of beer a year. With 923 mil­lion pints ex­ported to 110 dif­fer­ent coun­tries, beer is the third largest food and drink ex­port sec­tor in the UK and it is worth £550 mil­lion to the UK econ­omy.

“In my con­stituency alone, the sec­tor ac­counts for 1,156 jobs, of which 313 are held by un­der-25s. It also con­trib­utes more than £37 mil­lion to our lo­cal econ­omy.”

Re­spond­ing, Trea­sury Min­is­ter An­drew Jones said: “The gov­ern­ment pro­ceeded to cut beer duty in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 Bud­gets, be­fore freez­ing it in 2016. It is worth not­ing that, as has been the gov­ern­ment’s pol­icy since 2013, the pub­lic fi­nances as­sume that al­co­hol du­ties will rise with the re­tail prices in­dex each year.

“That means that there is a cost. If we choose to cut or freeze du­ties, there is an im­pact on the amount of money taken into our Trea­sury, which af­fects other ar­eas of pub­lic ex­pen­di­ture or per­haps means that we have to seek to raise tax else­where.”

> Pub drinkers are health­ier and hap­pier, a new re­port has claimed. In­set: Dud­ley South MP Mike Wood

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