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.