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Alcohol duty freeze extended until August 2023, govt confirms | UK News

Alcohol duty rates will be frozen for a further six months until August 2023, the government has confirmed.

Announcing the move in the Commons, Treasury minister James Cartlidge said it is hoped the extension will “provide certainty and reassure pubs, distilleries and breweries as they face a challenging period ahead”.

Alcohol levies were due to be hiked on 1 February following the reversal of most of the Kwasi Kwarteng’s disastrous mini-budget, but Mr Cartlidge said that this year the duty rates decision will be held until Chancellor Jeremy Hunt delivers his spring budget on 15 March 2023.

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Mr Cartlidge made clear that if any changes to alcohol duty are announced at the spring budget, they will not take effect until 1 August 2023.

Alcohol duty was due to rise by Retail Price Index (RPI) inflation in February. RPI inflation was 14% in November.

“Today’s announcement reflects this government’s commitment to responsible management of the UK economy and supporting hospitality through a challenging winter,” the Treasury minister said.

“The alcohol sector is vital to our country’s social fabric and supports thousands of jobs – we have listened to pubs, breweries and industry reps concerned about their future as they get ready for the new, simpler, alcohol tax system taking effect from August.

“That’s why we have acted now to give maximum certainty to industry and confirmed there will be just one set of industry-wide changes next summer.”

The British Beer and Pub Association welcomed the decision to extend the freeze on beer duty.

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said: “The decision to extend the freeze on beer duty will be welcomed by pubs and brewers alike. In 2022 our industry has faced pressures and challenges like never before.

“This freeze will allow £180 million to be reinvested into our sector at a critical moment and inject a much-needed flurry of festive cheer for pubs and breweries. It shows the government understands just how much our pubs and brewers mean to communities across the UK.”

But shadow treasury minister Abena Oppong-Asare told the Commons it is “laughable” the government announced a six-month extension to the alcohol duty freeze in the name of certainty.

“We should call it what it is: it is a U-turn. The previous chancellor announced a freeze, the current chancellor scrapped it, and now it’s back on. How did we get here?” she said.

Ms Oppong-Asare also accused the government of having “no long-term plan for the British economy”.

At the autumn budget in 2021, the government announced its intention to reform alcohol duty by adopting a “common sense approach” where the higher a drink’s strength, the higher the duty.

The government also said it will introduce new reliefs to help pubs and small producers thrive.

These reforms are due to take effect from 1 August 2023.

COVID hospital admissions in England highest since August amid new ‘autumn wave’ | UK News

A new autumn wave of coronavirus has seen the number of patients in hospital with the virus hit the highest level since August, the latest NHS data suggests.

Figures show 7,024 people were in hospital with coronavirus in England as of 8am on 28 September.

This is up 37% from 5,142 the previous week – and is the highest number seen since 19 August.

With universal free testing wound down at the beginning of this year, health officials rely mainly on hospital data and the weekly ONS infection survey to understand how COVID is spreading.

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The latest NHS figures, which are published every Thursday, show an upward trend in hospital admissions across all regions, with the South West at the same level as it was amid the Omicron BA.4/BA.5 subvariant wave in July.

The most recent ONS data also shows an increase in positive cases outside hospital and care home settings in England, with 766,500 people infected in the week to 14 September.

That is around one in 70 – up from one in 75 the week before.

According to the ZOE Health Study, which asks people to log their symptoms on a smartphone app, that number is higher – with an average of one in 32 people suffering symptomatic COVID across the UK this week.

Impact of hospitalisations could be higher

Its founder, Professor Tim Spector said: “It’s clear we’re now seeing an autumn wave of COVID-19, combined with increases in hospital admissions.

“With rates on the rise, especially in the vulnerable elderly age groups, the impact on hospitalisations could be higher.

“However, the youngest age group are showing possible early signs of case numbers slowing. Children tend to be a leader of infection trends, so if this continues next week it is possible that the COVID wave might not be as bad as previously predicted.”

Everyone over 65 and those in vulnerable groups are currently eligible for a ‘bivalent’ booster vaccine, which protects against the original Wuhan strain and the Omicron variant.

Eventually this will be rolled out to everyone over 50.

NHS officials have warned of a “twindemic” of flu and COVID infections this winter.

During its winter period earlier this year, Australia suffered a surge in H3N2 variant flu infections – the same one that caused around 20,000 deaths and 40,000 hospital admissions during the 2017/2018 flu season in the UK.

Flu circulated far less widely during the height of the coronavirus pandemic as people’s immune systems were heightened and vulnerable groups did not mix.

Food prices in August rose at the fastest rate since 2008, says British Retail Consortium | Business News

Food prices rose at their fastest rate since 2008 in August – up 9.3% after a 7% increase last month.

The figure comes from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and NielsenIQ index, which blamed the Ukraine war and its effect on the price of animal feed, fertiliser, wheat, and vegetable oils.

Fresh food prices were 10.5% higher than last August, up from the 8% annual increase recorded in July, with products such as milk and margarine seeing the biggest rises.

Shop price annual inflation also increased to 5.1% in August, up from 4.4% in July, and is now the highest since 2005 when the BRC index started.

The rise in food prices is one of the key drivers of inflation, which hit 10.1% in the 12 months to July, up from 9.4% in June, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Some analysts believe it could exceed 18% next year, when more huge energy price rises are set to kick in.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said the outlook was “bleak for both consumers and retailers”, but that businesses would support people through “discounts to vulnerable groups, expanding value ranges, fixing prices of essentials, and raising staff pay”.

But she said mounting costs meant “there is only so much they can shoulder”.

“The new prime minister will have an opportunity to relieve some of the cost burden bearing down on retailers, like the upcoming increase in business rates, in order to help retailers do more to help their customers,” added Ms Dickinson.

Data earlier this month showed workers had suffered a record real-term wage slump, prompting millions of public sector employees to vote for what could be the biggest wave of strike action since the 1970s.

Mike Watkins, head of retailer and business insight at NielsenIQ, said: “Inflation continues to accelerate and shoppers are already cautious about how much they spend on groceries, with a fall in volume sales at supermarkets in recent months.

“We can expect this level of food inflation to be with us for at least another six months but hopefully some of the input cost pressures in the supply chain will eventually start to ease.

“However, with further falls in disposable incomes coming this autumn as energy costs rocket again, retail spend will come under pressure in the all-important final quarter of the year.”