By John Timothy, Portman Group Chief Executive
As the social responsibility body for the alcohol industry we are keen to understand how extended isolation and social distancing has impacted the drinking habits of people across the UK. Seeking to be robust, we commissioned the only study from YouGov[i] to look at a baseline for weekly drinking and the changes that followed.
We seek to be transparent with the results of our research, so you can view the full study here. In summary, they show:
- Overall, the majority of Brits are drinking the same or less compared to before lockdown, with a large majority remaining within the UK Chief Medical Officers’ 14 units a week low risk drinking guidelines. Even among those drinking more, close to half remain within these guidelines.
- Prior to lockdown, 75% of UK adults said they either did not drink or drank within the CMO’s guidelines of 14 units per week. This equates to 6 pints of 4% ABV beer or 6 glasses of 13% ABV wine a week.
- When asked if their drinking had increased or decreased since lockdown, two thirds (65%) of Brits who drank alcohol before the lockdown said that they are drinking the same, less or had stopped drinking altogether.
- A large majority of drinkers remain within the low risk guidelines, including 81% of those drinking less and 72% of those drinking thereabouts the same. Even among those drinking more, close to half (44%) remain within these guidelines.
- When those who are drinking less are asked about how they are moderating their intake of alcohol, 18% say they are intentionally limiting their purchase of alcohol in shops and 10% are incorporating alcohol-free days into their week.
This research builds on a number of other surveys from YouGov, CGA, Alcohol Change UK, Drinkaware and the Institute for Employment Studies, which consistently show that there has not been a spike in alcohol consumption under lockdown. Taken together, it appears that around 4 in 5 Brits are drinking the same, less or stopped during lockdown, with around a third drinking less and a 1 in 5 drinking more.
This appears to support evidence that the lockdown has resulted in fewer sales. Despite media articles highlighting increased supermarket sales, retail sales were more than offset by a collapse in sales in pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants. Tellingly alcohol duty receipts published by HMRC, which reflect all sales, show a fall in receipts of 17% from £1.74bn in March-April 2019 to £1.44bn in March-April 2020.[ii]
For more stats on UK consumption rates view our fact sheet.
Whilst our results show that not all increases in drinking should be a cause for alarm, we must be mindful that there remains a minority who continue to drink at high risk levels and have actually increased their consumption.
Our shared efforts need to focus on tackling hazardous drinking and those struggling with alcohol dependence or those on the brink of dependence. There is a real risk this has been exacerbated by the pandemic cutting off social and professional support as well as further economic pressures. Excessive alcohol consumption is dangerous and its effects should not be downplayed.
People drinking at hazardous levels need professional support to overcome what are often multi-faceted challenges. 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.
As the UK plans for the reopening of the hospitality industry, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic that moderate drinking patterns will continue. Polling from the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking suggests that half (50%) of Brits intend to maintain their new drinking habits, with 35% expecting to return to pre-lockdown habits.[iii]
This survey reinforces the pattern of evidence from other research suggesting that the UK is,and largely continues to be, a nation of responsible drinkers.
[i] YouGov surveyed 2,070 adults from across the UK online between 22 May and 26 May 2020. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+). All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.