UK alcohol consumption falls dramatically

23 October, 2009

UK alcohol consumption is falling at the fastest rate for more than 60 years, according to new figures released by the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA).

The amount we drink fell by over eight per cent to 3.81 litres per head in the first half of 2009 compared with 4.15 litres per head in the same period of 2008.  The last time the nation’s alcohol consumption fell by more than this was during 1948 when it fell by 11 per cent over the course of the year.  The numbers are from official HM Revenue & Customs data and have been compiled by the BBPA.

The amount we drink has now been on a strong downward trend for four and a half years, since a peak in 2004. On current trends, by the end of this year, the amount we drink could be down to the levels of ten years ago – 14 per cent down on 2004.

The numbers call into serious question alcohol policies designed to reduce drinking in the whole population, says the BBPA.  Claims by some academics and medical lobby groups that a fall in total consumption would lead to significant social benefits, such as a fall in alcohol related hospital admissions, are not being borne out by the facts.

With over four years of falling consumption, the academic theories in the Government’s much quoted ‘Sheffield Study’ can now be tested against experience in the real world. According to the Sheffield calculations, the fall in consumption of over six per cent between 2004 and 2008 should have resulted in around 20,000 fewer alcohol-related hospital admissions in 2008 and on current trends, around 50,000 fewer admissions this year. However, the medical profession regularly reports rising hospital admissions.

The statement from the BBPA continues: “The consumption data shows that the theory of reducing everyone’s drinking to tackle alcohol harm does not work in practice and that targeted policies would be more effective. Despite this clear trend, the Government continues to press ahead with a wide range of measures designed to control alcohol consumption at national level. This includes the Government’s proposals for a mandatory code for pubs, contained in the Policing & Crime Bill, which could cost the industry £300 million at a time when many pubs are facing closure.”

Brigid Simmonds, BBPA chief executive, said: “Alcohol consumption is not increasing. It has been on a firm downward trend for several years. When it comes to effective policies to tackle alcohol harm, we need a debate based on the real facts.

“We can now test the academic theories and models, because we now have real life experience of falling total consumption. As doctors keep telling us things are getting worse, these figures cast severe doubt on the claims often made that the best policies for reducing alcohol harm are those that reduce everyone’s drinking.

“In reality, alcohol policies designed to reduce drinking in the whole population are misguided. Controls on the total amount we drink will not work.   What we need is a new debate about effective policy measures that are clearly targeted at the minority who misuse alcohol. Our industry is open to that debate and wants to be part of the solution.”

The BBPA works in partnership with others on a range of targeted social responsibility initiatives including Best Bar None, Drinkaware, The Campaign for Smarter Drinking, Purple Flag, Crime and Disorder Partnerships, Pubwatch and many others.

Digital Edition

Drinks International digital edition is available ahead of the printed magazine. Don’t miss out, make sure you subscribe today to access the digital edition and all archived editions of Drinks International as part of your subscription.


La'Mel Clarke

Service isn’t servitude: the skill of hosting

La’Mel Clarke, front of house at London’s Seed Library, looks at the forgotten art of hosting and why it deserves the same respect as bartending.