Nicola Bates, Strategy Director at the Portman Group – the alcohol social responsibility body and marketing regulator said:
“Total alcohol consumption has gone down consistently over the past 10 years, and Britons now drink around 15% less alcohol than they did 10 years ago. During the lockdowns the vast majority of people continued to drink moderately and this research shows some lighter drinkers cut their consumption.
“However there is a small minority who were already drinking at high harm levels when the lockdowns began and evidence suggests some went on to drink more. The models presented in this research are stark but they presume no interventions are made. This small minority of drinkers are the ones who need the most support with targeted action and a focused policy response.”
Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group – the alcohol social responsibility body and marketing regulator said:
“Public Health Scotland’s latest data reaffirms a body of research that shows overall alcohol consumption fell during 2020.
“Yet in contrast alcohol-related deaths tragically increased which may in part be due to the heaviest drinkers finding it harder to access support. There is a duty of care to now focus on targeted measures for the minority, those who were already drinking at the heaviest and most harmful rates, who then increased their drinking as the impact of the pandemic compounded existing problems.
“Finally, we would be interested to understand why this report focuses on alcohol sales while downplaying the Scottish Government’s own studies on actual alcohol consumption that shows a persistent fall in drinking rates for over a decade. With the majority of people in Scotland drinking an average of 12.1 units a week, below the CMO low risk guidelines of 14 units per week, it is important to view drinking rates accurately and address this within policy making.”
Data: Scottish Government Health Survey https://scotland.shinyapps.io/sg-scottish-health-survey/ shows the average alcohol consumption in 12.1 units a week compared to the CMO low risk guidelines of 14 units per week.
PHE report on alcohol consumption and harm during the COVID-19 pandemic
This research found that the moderate majority, 88% of UK drinkers, were consuming the same, less or had stopped drinking alcohol altogether, this has been consistently evident throughout the pandemic.
Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK, commented:
“This report’s finding on pandemic drinking behaviour is consistent with many others. The moderate majority continued to drink the same, or less than before, while it was mainly the small minority who were already drinking at heavier rates who increased their drinking with tragic consequences – this was shown in the Portman Group and others research which the PHE cited.
“The pandemic created a perfect storm where harmful drinking was concerned. COVID-19 restrictions appear to have cut off social and professional support to highest harm drinkers, or deterred these most vulnerable people from seeking help in the first instance. We urge the Government to renew its focus on measures aimed at supporting these people.
“On alcohol sales the volume fell by over 10% (Euromonitor 2021) as many people who drink in pubs and clubs chose not to drink or didn’t buy as much from retailers.”
Matt Lambert, CEO, Portman Group
At the point where COVID-19 was becoming an international crisis the groups which make up the alcohol sector responded in a most extraordinary and inspirational way. They took action across the country to ensure that communities were supported. Pubs, producers, charities, industry, and consumer groups all delivered on the ground where help was most needed.
We captured this work in the Supporting Communities report. In amongst the huge number of inspiring stories here are some key highlights:
- Hand sanitiser – the industry stepped up to donate enough high strength ethanol to produce a bottle of hand sanitiser for every household in the UK.
- Support to staff and communities – with many bartenders finding themselves out of work, the industry donated time and money to ensure that staff feel supported both financially and emotionally. Major industry players worked hard to support pubs against the threat of closure. In addition to this, pubs recognised their position as community hubs and lifelines to those living in isolated areas or conditions. They continued through the lockdowns to offer support to local communities by donating food and operating takeaway services.
- Becoming COVID secure – for the brief periods in which licensed venues were allowed to reopen, the industry took every step to ensure pubs become safe, socially distanced environments where customers could properly relax.
- Drinking habits – the emotional toll of lockdown on people’s mental health and wellbeing cannot be over-exaggerated. Concerns about excessive and even harmful drinking have been voiced throughout the pandemic. Organisations such as Club Soda and Drinkaware produced updated information and campaigns for those who may be struggling to moderate their drinking during such a turbulent time.
We could not possibly have anticipated the incredible and overwhelming reception that the actions shown in the report, and explored further in the accompanying blog series, would receive.
We announced the report with a short video, shared to our Twitter and LinkedIn pages. This garnered over 5,000 views and became our most engaged with post on both social channels securing shares and support from all of the major industry groups and producers. Several MPs, including the Business Ministers Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP and Paul Scully MP, publicly demonstrated their support.
In depth analysis and case study deep dives
The report was supported by a renewal of our blog series examining the work of the sector. The first series ran biweekly with blogs from our team and the sector. Between September and October 14 blogs explored the response to the first lockdown and the easing of restrictions. We heard from the British Beer and Pub Association, ClubSoda, Drinkaware, International Alliance for Responsible Drinking, Scottish Alcohol Information Partnership, Scotch Whisky Association, and the UK Spirits Alliance. Through the series we were able to launch our guidance on sampling via online sales; explore the trends in drinking behaviour showing that the majority of people continued to drink responsibly; look at sales data; and highlight the huge number of positive actions by our member companies though out the pandemic.
The interest in this series demonstrated that people wanted to be able to explore actions in more depth, so we knew that with the report launch we had the opportunity to explore issues with deep dive case studies. We heard from:
- Ben Parker, a Senior Peer Support Manager for Central and North-West London NHS. He spoke of their work to support patients with alcohol dependency issues and about the difficulties, but also the advantages of the hybrid model working with people online and face to face, especially in securing the involvement of harder to reach groups. Read more here.
- Only a Pavement Away, a charity which works to get homeless people in employment within the hospitality sector and their work to support this community as they faced losing their jobs.
- A new initiative set up by a number of industry players, All Hands to the Pump, which created a hub of information and resources for those working in the licensed trade.
- The Drinks Trust which offered charitable support and access to over 5,000 bar workers, providing significant financial aid, as well as emotional support and vocational training with over 2,600 Covid-19 emergency grants worth £660,000; 24/7 confidential calls to counsellors and clinically trained psychotherapists; and access to online courses. Read more here.
- The award-winning Horse & Jockey Pub in Melling, Merseyside which united its community by bringing together a volunteer squad to provide a range of support to the most vulnerable, so they didn’t go hungry or lonely during the pandemic. Read more here.
- Last, but far from least, the Cooper King Distillery which turned over its production to make ethanol supplies to produce much-needed hand sanitiser and provided this free to more than 50 charities, health centres and key worker organisations. Read more here.
As an evidence-lead body we at the Portman Group sought to bring our evidence up to date. In this blog it is clear from over 33 polls that most people continued to drink the same or less during the pandemic, however there were a small persistent group who drank more and who need significant targeted support. We also carried out research into the return to pubs after lockdown and our work with YouGov showed that the public planned a cautious, careful return to pubs, something which has been borne out by events.
Wishing you well and goodbye
After running throughout this year so far, this post brings an end to our Supporting Communities blog series. Although the pandemic is not yet over the vaccines are brining hope. Here in Britain we are at last seeing the gradual relaxation of restrictions so I very much hope that we do not have cause to revise the series. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the organisation and people who contributed to report and blogs, as well as our many supporters who have shared the work covered in this series throughout its run. I am confident that we will work together to learn from this challenging time and look forward to a much brighter future post COVID-19.
All Hands to the Pump – supporting pubs and employees to reopen safely
All Hands to the Pump is an initiative designed to support those working in or with the licensed trade. The organisation offers access to webinars, events, and training.
The initiative was set up to assist hospitality workforces to gear up for the gradual re-opening of pubs, bars and restaurants following the third lockdown. The reopening began in England, with outdoor hospitality from 12 April. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland then followed with varying restrictions implemented allowing for the enjoyment of hospitality again.
Training and events are run regularly and provided free of charge. The training sessions cover topics such as risk assessment and how to become COVID-secure, essential lessons that are crucial to the safe and sustainable reopening of licensed venues. All training is run virtually via online webinars, showing the flexibility and adaptability of this industry, even in the face of such immense challenges. So far, the online webinars have been viewed by over 2,500 users.
The partnership also signposts free resources including guidance on reopening, financial support, and emotional support for employees’ mental health. Our Supporting Communities report that highlighted the significant work of the sector during the COVID-19 pandemic detailed a number of the charities and groups acting as a network to offer similar assistance to those working in the licensed trade sector. The respective reach that each has, and ways needed to support various groups, underscored how diverse the sector is and how vital these services became during the pandemic. All Hands to the Pump has played an important role in creating an accessible hub for all those affected by the pandemic and associated long-term closure of hospitality venues.
All Hands to the Pump has become a go-to hub for workforces across the licensed trade looking to come back stronger than ever as hospitality reopens. Yet again, the industry has proved its resilience and commitment to working together to provide a strong network of COVID-secure businesses that will be able to bounce back from this crisis.
Any individual or group who is offering free training or resources which may be useful to those working in or with the trade, are encouraged to get in touch with All Hands to the Pump so those resources can be listed and made available to the community free of charge. Additionally, All Hands to the Pump invites anyone working in or with the on trade to get in touch via the contact us page and one of the team’s experts will be in touch to offer free advice.
For more information on All Hands to the Pump, visit https://allhandstothepump.com
Only a Pavement Away – The Hospitality Industry Supports Homeless People into Employment
Following the publication of our Supporting Communities report, we continue to engage with industry groups and organisations who play important roles in advancing the alcohol and hospitality sectors. Using the report as a springboard, we are continuing to shine a light on the valuable work of these groups.
One such organisation is Only a Pavement Away (OAPA), a charity which works to support homeless people by getting them into employment in the hospitality sector.
OAPA was founded by married couple Greg and Gill Mangham who were shocked and saddened by both the sheer number of homeless people living in the UK, as well as the way the homeless community are treated.
Greg and Gill refused to accept that homelessness is the direct result of a person’s actions and point to an inherently flawed system. They also spotted that the hospitality industry was growing quickly and needed an increased workforce to meet demand. Greg had spent 40 years working in the industry and saw an opportunity to connect homeless looking for jobs with companies needing staff. He used his extensive contacts and knowledge to build the charity.
OAPA acts as the bridge between charities working to get people who are ex-offenders or homeless into employment, and those businesses who need to recruit new employees and are keen to support people to have a second chance. As a not-for-profit recruiter they created a programme to match candidates with employers. With candidates undergoing initial assessments, support to prepare for interviews and relevant training courses employers can be confident in them. The process is open and transparent which removes any caution from the employer or the need for the prospective employee to explain the details of their circumstances.
Launched in 2018, by 2020, it had already placed 77 people into employment. With every homeless or former prisoner costing £20,000 to the economy they have helped to add £2.5 million worth of value to the UK economy. Additionally, they keep close to those on the streets and support rough sleepers by donating flasks, warm clothes, blankets, and food and drink.
The charity is partnered with major players in the hospitality sector including pubcos who stepped up to support the COVID-19 relief effort, covered in the Supporting Communities report. These include Youngs & Co Brewery, Gaucho, Greene King, Malmaison, Pub Love, Yummy, Qoot, The Ivy Collection and many more.
OAPA provides a gateway to employment and vital associated services such as support and training. Beyond this, OAPA is committed to providing additional assistance to the most vulnerable in the programme. This includes providing housing, travel, uniform, and groceries. A donation to OAPA covers these essentials.
If you would like to learn more about Only a Pavement Away, contact email@example.com. If you’re part of business that would like to become a partner and help those facing homelessness, get into employment, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Portman Group-YouGov research on pandemic drinking and the return to pubs
As the UK begins the slow process of loosening restrictions designed to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, the Portman Group continues to track the impact on the UK’s drinking behaviour. Our third study [i] with research from YouGov combines the insights gained from our previous two polls to reflect on how the UK public drank alcohol over the past year and their intentions regarding the reopening of UK hospitality. It shows that UK drinkers stuck to moderation over the past year and plan a cautious, careful return to pubs.
Our full report summarising our survey results show that:
- The majority continue to drink moderately: 78% of UK adults either do not drink or drink within the CMO guidelines – echoing the results consistently seen in official Government data.
- Furthermore, 73% of UK drinkers say they drank either the same or less since the beginning of the pandemic compared to previous years – close to a third (32%) of UK drinkers said they have cut down.
[i] YouGov surveyed 2,303 adults from across the UK online between 31 March and 1 April. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+). All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.
- Despite the statistics there is a myth that COVID-19 and lockdown has led to increased drinking: A large majority (69%) of UK adults believe that the UK population has increased alcohol consumption over the last year, with only 6% correctly stating that we have overall drank less.
- The results signal an orderly return to pubs and bars: Half (50%) of previous UK pubgoers said they intended to visit pubs and bars about the same frequency as before, with around 14% intending to visit more and 22% visiting less.
- Pubgoers seek friends, family and normality. Previous UK pubgoers said that they are most looking forward to being able to socialise with friends and family (cited by 68% of respondents) and regaining a sense of normality (57%).
- 86% of UK drinkers said they intend to drink the same (71%) or less (15%) compared to before the pandemic as the hospitality sector begins to reopen.
How do these results fit in to the wider picture of alcohol in the UK over the past year?
Our latest poll results fit into a much broader picture that the UK population, on the whole, drank the same or less alcohol than they usually would over the past year.
Our analysis of 33 publicly available polls taken since the start of the pandemic and commissioned by the Portman Group, Public Health England, Drinkaware and Alcohol Change UK show that just over half (51%) drank the same as compared to before the pandemic and just over a quarter (26%) have either cut back or cut out alcohol altogether.
This analysis also suggests that around 23% of drinkers have increased their consumption, though our previous and current polls suggest that many who are drinking more still remain within the Chief Medical Officer lower-risk guidelines.
These survey findings are backed by further emerging evidence that overall alcohol consumption and sales have decreased. In February 2021, Public Health Scotland published the findings of two studies it commissioned which “suggest that at a population level people were drinking at reduced levels in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic”. The research suggests that during the first lockdowns there was a 6% reduction in the total volume of pure alcohol sold per adult in Scotland, England and Wales, and a decline in average weekly intake in Scotland of 0.8 units and a decline of 1.5 units in England[i].
Public Health England figures suggest that average weekly unit intake has generally remained around 11 units throughout the past year[ii].
Yet we are concerned about the minority who have increased their drinking. Our latest findings echo previous studies that identify the increases by those who were already drinking at heavier and more harmful rates before the pandemic. The reasons underlying this are likely multifaceted and exacerbated by the isolation and uncertainty by lockdown restrictions imposed to tackle the virus. As we emerge from lockdown, we reiterate that our shared focus should be on reaching out to those struggling with alcohol dependence or those on the brink of dependence. We would encourage all those concerned about their drinking, or about the drinking of someone around them, to seek help from a health professional or visit Drinkaware.co.uk for free support and practical advice.
Overall, our latest poll results fit into a much broader picture that the UK population, on the whole, drank the same or less alcohol than they usually would over the past year. Furthermore, that UK drinkers intend to continue this moderate behaviour as they cautiously return to pubs and bars over the coming months.
Latest results from Portman Group and UCL studies highlight continuing UK moderate majority throughout lockdowns and beyond
You may have read last week initial reports that University College London’s ongoing COVID-19 study had found that half of adults reported that they were drinking more now compared to a year ago.
Whilst the headlines were certainly startling, UCL have since confirmed that the initial press release was incorrect due to a technical error and has been retracted and updated.
In actual fact, the UCL survey[i] of over 70,000 UK adults across the UK found that 83% of adults reported either no change (65.5%) or a reduction (17.5%) in their alcohol consumption now compared to March/April 2020. Instead of half, only around 17% of adults reported they had been drinking more.
These results fit with the results of our most recent poll with YouGov, where 73% of UK drinkers said that they were either drinking the same or less since the beginning of the pandemic compared to previous years. In our poll close to a third (32%) of UK drinkers said they had reduced their alcohol consumption, whilst just over a quarter (26.3%) said they were drinking more[ii].
Adding the latest data to our tracking of 33 publicly available polls from the start of the pandemic, commissioned by groups such as the Portman Group, Public Health England, Drinkaware and Alcohol Change UK, shows that over three quarters (77%) of UK adults are drinking the same or less over the past year.
Taken together around half (51%) of adults report no change to their alcohol consumption, whilst over a quarter (26%) report drinking less and under a quarter (23%) report drinking more.
Increases in consumption should also be placed in context, with the Portman Group’s latest and previous polls suggesting that many who are drinking more still remain within the Chief Medical Officer lower-risk guidelines. The latest UCL research also provides some encouraging news that 40.1% of UK adults drinking over the Chief Medical Officer guidelines of 14 units per week had decreased their drinking.
However, our latest findings also echo previous concerns that increases over the past year have been fuelled by those already drinking at heavier and more harmful rates[iii]. The reasons for this increase are likely multifaceted and potentially exacerbated by continued lockdown restrictions cutting off social and professional support or deterring people from seeking help in the first instance.
As we emerge from lockdown our shared efforts need to focus on tackling hazardous drinking and helping those struggling with alcohol dependence or those on the brink of dependence. We would encourage all those concerned about their drinking, or about the drinking of someone around them, to seek help from a health professional or visit Drinkaware.co.uk for free support and practical advice.
Yet it is also useful to take a step back and see that the moderate majority of UK population, on the whole, drank the same or have cut down their alcohol consumption over the past year, dispelling the myth that Britain turned to the bottle during the pandemic.
Running the alcohol recovery day programme during COVID-19
Every day I work with those who have struggled with alcohol and substance addiction. We run a ‘Recovery Day Programme’ as part of rehabilitation in the community. It helps those who have struggled with substance use to come together to develop tools for their well-being and personal growth and strategies to prevent a relapse.
Prior to the pandemic, our three-month abstinence-based programme was heavily focused on in-person contact and group work. However, the lockdown quickly changed that, forcing us to think on our feet and adapt our programme so we could provide ongoing support to our clients at a distance.
We had to think around the problem and utilise technology.
We encouraged our client’s set-up on WhatsApp and Zoom allowing us to keep the group connected. It was vital to ensure continued group support, and to stay in touch
virtually to allow meaningful interventions. Within two weeks we had successfully built an adapted programme online.
However, some were digitally excluded so we ensured that they wouldn’t miss out. We posted the group work to complete with a self-addressed envelope to return. We also ensured that these clients were called more regularly to receive support. When initial restrictions were lifted, we set up a conference facility in the office to allow for group work, while the rest of their peers met on Zoom.
It is amazing how tech can be an effective way to reach out beyond the service, and to help in its support. Given the lockdowns every one of us knows the importance of remaining in touch with our loved ones. Some people who are alcohol dependent may have lived a chaotic or unmanageable life style, resulting in difficulties with close relationships. It was truly rewarding that this time and our engagement with smartphones actually helped a client to see his Mum for the first time in a year. By showing him how to share video through WhatsApp he is now better supported at home. We are now in talks about rolling out digital devices to those who may be excluded from accessing interventions which are facilitated on a virtual platform.
This hybrid model has enabled us to better cater our support to people’s lives, allowing people to get help how best they choose – either in-person or online – whilst still allowing them to stay connected. We were extremely conscious that people didn’t lose out who couldn’t access technology, but have noticed that others, especially with childcare needs or have cultural stigmas around treatment, were more willing to participate. It has been described to me as a blessing in disguise and we have seen younger people and those with physical difficulties state that this is a better format for them. Zoom has broken down barriers.
This change, which came out of necessity, will likely become the new normal going forward.
Community Support from the Horse & Jockey, Melling
During the pandemic, our beloved family-run pub The Horse & Jockey in Melling, Liverpool, became a community-run pub offering a vital lifeline to those who needed it most. Over the past year, we have convened 50 volunteers who have supplied food, emotional support and everyday helping hands to over 300 people. We are continuing to work hard to support the most vulnerable and wanted to share an insight into our hard work throughout the pandemic as well as highlight areas for additional support.
We have built a community which has produced flyers that have been sent to over 4,000 homes. The flyers highlight the local communication channels we’ve set up to enable our important work. We have specifically targeted those that the government identified to be most at risk of COVID-19 – the over-70s and clinically vulnerable. Many of the people who fall into these categories have been isolating and therefore unable to provide for themselves, as well as being at risk of severe loneliness. Our plan was to tackle these problems by providing continued and much needed support to those most-affected by the pandemic.
We worked with local businesses and the public to provide hot meals which are delivered to those in need every evening. We’re helping people to stay healthy by picking up their pharmacy prescriptions and delivering them to their door. Perhaps most crucially, we are combatting loneliness with our ‘listening ear’ initiative which sees our volunteers picking up the phone and giving a vital call to an ever-growing list of people. These calls are a chance to have a chat and brighten up the day of someone who is struggling through this challenging time.
Our group of 50 volunteers have supported over 300 people during the pandemic. We’ve used the pub to set up our Community Kitchen, which has allowed us to put over 15,000 meals on tables. Our JustGiving page, which has received almost £6,000 in donations to date, has allowed us to keep the Community Kitchen going throughout three lockdowns.
One of the key tasks throughout the pandemic has been responding and adapting to the various rules and regulations that have come into play during each lockdown, as well as the periods in between including the tier system and local lockdowns. The varying nature of each lockdown has meant that different issues have come to the fore across each lockdown. Through it all, the Community Kitchen has continued to support local families, with recent focus turning to ensuring school children didn’t go hungry during school holidays.
During the current lockdown, even as it winds down and we ease towards our own outdoor reopening, we are continuing to support our local community as we have throughout the pandemic while working with our network of volunteers to come up with new and innovative ways to provide support to those who need it most.
Support the Horse & Jockey
If you would like more information about the Horse & Jockey, visit their website: mellingcommunityvolunteers.com
To donate to the Just Giving page, click here: Crowdfunding to Helping our local community Our focus is currently feeding the children in our community who need it most during the school holidays on JustGiving