Consumption of spirits jumps, beer falls
Britain drank substantially less beer last year, but increased its intake of vodka, gin and other spirits as the country switched to cheaper drinks.
Consumers drank the equivalent of 8.45 litres of pure alcohol last year, or about 65 bottles of wine, according to the British Beer and Pub Association, which analyses tax receipts to calculate detailed consumption figures.
However, while total alcohol consumption in 2010 increased just a little – 0.6 per cent – after two years of falls during the recession, the types of drink they consumed changed markedly.
Beer consumption fell by 1.9 per cent, the seventh year in a row that people have cut back on Britain's most popular drink. However, intake of spirits, such as gin, whisky, vodka or rum, increased by 4 per cent.
The average British consumer has been gradually cutting back on the amount of alcohol they consume, in part because of the economic climate, which has encouraged people to spend less. Health concerns have also meant many people drink considerably less than the generation before and there are, because of immigration, a greater number of teetotallers on religious grounds.
However, the figures from the BBPA underline that though the average consumption levels are going down, many are switching to stronger drinks.
It claimed that the above-inflation increase in beer duty had been responsible for the shift in drinking habits, pricing the average pint of lager served in a pub above £3, while sprits and wine had risen more modestly in price.
Despite the overall fall in alcohol consumption, hospitals have said they are handling far more cases of alcohol-related cases, suggesting those that are drinking are drinking far more heavily and turning to stronger alcohol.
Official figures, compiled by the West Public Health Observatory, suggested that a person is admitted to hospital with an alcohol-related harm every two minutes in England.
The price of a pint of beer is due to increase once again in April when another above-inflation increase in duty is expected to add an estimated 5p to a pint.
Brigid Simmonds, the BBPA's chief executive, said: “With total alcohol consumption nearly 12 per cent lower per head than in 2004, these figures show that we need to look beyond the headline figures when it comes to shaping alcohol policy.
“Scrapping plans for further rises in beer duty in the Budget, would also send a signal on encouraging consumption of lower-strength drinks, and crucially at this time, this could also save over 10,000 UK jobs, protecting Treasury revenues, and stop several more pence being added to the price of a British pint, further hitting UK consumers. The Government says it wants to champion pubs, and herald a great UK manufacturing revival. Our brewing industry is the perfect place to start.”