Last week the Government published the latest figures on underage drinking rates across England which suggest a plateauing of children drinking underage and the proportion of 11-14 year olds saying they have drank at all remaining static. This means there is evidently more to do promote an alcohol-free childhood.

However, we should also take into account our progress in tackling underage drinking which have until recently been in decline for many years, with children today significantly less likely to drink alcohol or think that getting drunk is okay than in previous generations.

Furthermore, the latest research from the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking (IARD) shows that underage drinking has declined in over two-thirds of the 63 countries where national data is available.

YouGov polling conducted for IARD shows that 64% of UK respondents thought that underage drinking rates had either increased (30%) or stayed the same (34%) in the last 10 years, compared to 19% who thought it had declined.

Whilst the latest figures for England are concerning, Government data shows that underage drinking has fallen across every nation in the UK over the past decade:

Under the old Government methodology, the proportion of pupils in England who said that they had ever had an alcoholic drink declined by 31% from 55% in 2006 to 38% in 2014. Under the new methodology, the figures have remained around 44% in 2016 and 2018.

Those who admitted to drinking at least once a week declined 73% from 2006 and 2014 and has remained static at 6% since 2016.

Attitudes towards underage drinking are changing amongst young people, with a 22% fall since 2003 in the number of 11-15 year olds who think it is ok to try alcohol to see what it’s like and a 33% fall in those who think it is ok to get drunk to see what it’s like, although there has been a slight increase since 2014.

A further welcome consequence of falling underage drinking rates can be seen in hospital admissions, with a 55% fall in alcohol-specific admissions for under-18s in England over the last decade.

The IARD polling also shows that 44% of UK respondents believe that the alcohol industry has a responsibility for preventing underage drinking. UK drinks producers and retailers take this responsibility seriously and have put a huge amount of effort and resources into robust ID schemes, support for local partnership initiatives and effective industry self-regulation of alcohol marketing.

Schemes such as the ‘Challenge 25’ programme operated by retailers help to deny minors access to alcohol by requiring staff to ask any customer who looks under 25 for proof of age.

The Portman Group also continues to enforce Rule 3.2(h) of our Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks to push companies to modify or remove from the UK market products which have been judged by our Independent Complaints Panel to have a particular appeal to under-18s. The Panel has upheld complaints against 7 products under this rule in 2019 alone and 23 products over the past five years.

These actions, along with effective education from parents, guardians and schools, have helped push underage drinking rates to further lows throughout the UK.

The UK alcohol industry will continue to work hard to build on this sustained progress of the last 10-15 years.