On the 19th May the Government released Budget 2022. Alcohol Healthwatch was keen to see this budget seriously tackle the harm from alcohol; our country’s most harmful drug. From the budget announcements we are taking some wins, hoping for the best in other areas, and looking forward to advocating for continued action in all areas to reduce alcohol harm.
We had five key recommendations in our submission on the Budget. Our recommendations intersected with almost all aspects of Budget 2022, including child well-being, education, Māori and Pacific Peoples, physical and mental wellbeing, and the future of work and justice. These recommendations were to;
- Increase funding for public health and prevention in the new health system;
- Increase alcohol excise rates and reduce the negative impacts of alcohol use and harm on intergenerational wellbeing;
- Provide funding for a sustainable replacement/buy-out of alcohol sports sponsorship;
- Increase funding to achieve full implementation of the FASD Action Plan; and
- Increase Vote Police to substantially improve the number of roadside alcohol breath tests
We were hoping to see direct action to prevent alcohol harm and reduce the impact of hazardous drinking on our health system. We recognise that the health system, and in particular Emergency Departments, keenly feel the direct impact of alcohol harm. The weekends see around half of all alcohol-related ED presentations, representing about one in every six presentations in the night shift. More than half of those presenting have consumed around 13-14 or more drinks, contributing to high rates of ED staff reporting being subjected to verbal and physical abuse and threats. Hospitals and workplaces shouldn’t be hazardous to health. Direct action is needed to protect our doctors, nurses, and medical support staff now and into the future. These are just some of the reasons that all 20 DHB’s have now come together, for the first time ever, unified and calling for change on a single pressing issue of shared concern: alcohol harm.
So whilst we welcome Budget 2022 in clearing the financial debts of DHBs, it would seem obvious that we should also be immediately implementing measures that prevent the deficits spiralling again. Avoidable alcohol harm presentations and admissions undoubtedly contribute to these deficits. Counties Manukau DHB estimated that the cost of alcohol-related admissions to Middlemore Hospital was between $15 and $25 million per year. The opportunity costs to the health system (and us as consumers of health services) from these avoidable costs are staggering.
Prevention and intervention methods will also go a long way in reducing hazardous drinking and enabling safer communities. A focus on prevention also upholds New Zealanders’ right to health. Nearly half of all deaths in Pacific people and over half in Māori can be attributed to potentially avoidable causes of death. However only 2-3% of the health budget is invested in prevention across the entire health sector. Alcohol Healthwatch supports the Health Coalition Aotearoa’s recommendation to increase this to 5% by 2023. While Budget 2022 did not directly increase funding to preventative public health, we will continue to urge the government to increase this funding.
As well as this, we will continue to advocate for a 50% increase in the excise tax rates on alcohol. This would increase the price of alcohol overall by approximately 10%, assisting to prevent ‘moderate’ drinkers taking up more harmful drinking and inhibit paths to addiction. This is especially important as we face the long-term impacts of the pandemic. The extra tax revenue can also be directed to fund alcohol harm reduction services, particularly Māori-led services. All this for an extra $2.50 on 12-pack of beer, $1.20 extra on a bottle of wine, $2,40 extra on a 10-pack of RTDs and $11 extra on a bottle of spirits. Think of it as a donation to improving child well-being and mental health, and preventing cancer.
Alcohol Healthwatch also submitted to the Budget Select Committee in favour of a buy-out of alcohol sponsorship of sport in Aotearoa. Unfortunately, this was not actioned. All it would cost to buy out sponsorship is an extra 2c to the alcohol levy on a can of beer or RTD, 6c on a bottle of wine and 9c on a bottle of spirits. Whilst Budget 2022 failed to invest in preventing New Zealanders being exposed to sponsorship, we welcome the upcoming review of our liquor laws that have failed to protect New Zealanders from alcohol harm. We particularly look forward to seeing Government recommendations to reduce the harms from alcohol advertising and sponsorship. Ending alcohol sponsorship at broadcast sporting events attended or watched by under 18 year olds remains popular with the public, with 62% of New Zealanders in support.
Budget 2022 has seen significant funding allocated to the establishment of the Ministry of Disabled Peoples, and funds allocated to disability support. We are hoping that this will ensure increased (and sustainable) funding for the prevention, diagnosis and support services for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). We also call for funding to be allocated to working with whānau to build supportive, protective factors that centre indigenous approaches. Right now, families are crying out for support, as FASD (on its own) remains ineligible for disability support services. The exclusion from sufficient support has been described by the Children’s Commissioner and Disability Rights Commissioner as an egregious breach of human rights under international and domestic laws. In March this year, the Waitangi Tribunal heard the compelling accounts from whānau, health professionals and others regarding the devastating impacts of FASD on Māori when the proper and sufficient supports are not in place.
Lastly, we wanted to see a substantial increase in the number of random breath tests carried out across the country. It is concerning that the number of tests remains well below best practice levels. Alcohol continues to contribute to around one four of road deaths and more than one in ten serious injuries. The carnage from alcohol on our roads, being the second largest contributor to road deaths, will continue to stand in our way of ever achieving our Road to Zero vision. Stronger action on alcohol is imperative to make our roads safer for everyone.
Overall, from an alcohol harm perspective, the budget has provided some benefits to our communities, and shows us where we need to continue our advocacy. We look forward to the review of the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 expected sometime in this Parliamentary term, and will continue to seek support from local councils to support Green MP Chlӧe Swarbrick’s Private Members’ Bill, the Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Harm Minimisation) Bill. Communities can’t afford to continue to wait for alcohol law change, nor should they have to.