Fresh calls for the UK alcohol debate to “catch up with the facts” emerged this week as figures showed consumption remains far lower than it was six years ago.
While there was a small 0.6% rise in UK consumption per head in 2010, drinking levels are still 11% lower than they were in 2004 when a marked decline in UK consumption began.
The data also shows that the UK ranks below the European average in terms of consumption.
The findings in the British Beer & Pub Association’s Statistical Handbook 2011 raise serious questions about the debate on rising alcohol consumption, says the BBPA, with chief executive Brigid Simmonds calling for a debate firmly based on the facts when it comes to UK alcohol consumption.
Other findings which the BBPA said will cause concern to the industry include the fact that Britons continue to pay punitive taxes on alcohol in comparison with their neighbours, and this “tax gap” is growing.
British alcohol taxes are now the second highest in the EU on beer and wine, and fourth highest on spirits.
Currently tax policy is “a threat to jobs among the million people employed in industry”, said the BBPA.
A BBPA statement said: “The gap between British alcohol taxes and all our major neighbours grew in 2011.
“UK taxes are now eight times higher than France and 11 times higher than Germany. UK taxes now outstrip those of traditional high-tax regimes in Scandinavia, with the sole exception of Finland.”
The report highlighted how the average price of a British pub pint has broken the £3 barrier for the first time, partly due to huge tax increases.
The North East is the cheapest region for a beer, whereas London is almost 50% more expensive.
The cheapest region for a glass of wine in a pub is the Midlands, whereas Wales is cheapest for spirits.
Simmonds said: “When it comes to alcohol, we need a debate based on the hard facts.
“Alcohol consumption per head is 11% lower than in was in 2004. Tax rates have soared to unprecedented levels at a time when household budgets are stretched.
“Huge 35% rises in beer taxes in the past three years have been deeply damaging to British brewers, who operate one of our most innovative and successful manufacturing industries.
“The number of those drinking above health guidelines has been falling for a number of years and the industry is rightly investing in responsible drinking campaigns, yet some still demand ever-increasing restrictions and taxes.
“It’s time the debate caught up with the hard facts.”