The UK is drinking less alcohol now than in 2004, according to a new report, as an addiction charity warns it is still a “very big problem”.
New figures from the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) show the biggest fall in alcohol consumption in 2009 for sixty years.
Alcohol consumption fell the most dramatically in 2009 since 1948. UK drinkers are also consuming 13 per cent less alcohol than in 2004.
The figures are compiled primarily from HM Revenue and Customs data on the amount of alcohol sold by producers and importers into the UK market.
They show a 6 per cent decline in total alcohol consumption in 2009, the fourth annual decline in five years.
UK drinkers now consume 13 per cent less alcohol than in 2004, and consumption is below the EU average.
BBPA chief executive Brigid Simmonds said: “These figures will confound many pundits as yet again they confirm that as a nation we are not drinking more. Those who suggest otherwise need to focus on the hard facts.”
Despite the drop shown by the BBPA figures, men and women are still drinking too much on a daily basis, the government says.
While the BBPA figures focus on national consumption, they do not show how individuals are drinking.
So, for example, while as a whole the nation may have cut back, individuals could still be binge drinking more, and it is this type of drinking which causes the most health problems.
'There remains a very serious alcohol problem in this country'
"Of course, we would welcome any evidence that suggest the UK is adopting a more sensible attitude to drinking, but we mustn't forget that there remains a very serious alcohol problem in this country," Simon Antrobus, chief executive for drug and alcohol addiction treatment charity, Addaction.
"Only this week, an 8 per cent annual increase in the number of people hospitalised for alcohol-related conditions was reported. Also, a recent study identified a 24 per cent increase in the number of dependent drinkers between 2000 and 2007.
"At Addaction, we see these problems every day in our services. And on top of that, the cost to society is huge - in the region of £17 to £24 billion each year. This includes the financial impact on A&E departments, to the police and through other related social costs. So, it's still a very big problem.
"And one that's a priority area for the government, especially when funding for alcohol treatment lags so far behind that for drug treatment. There are a good number of treatment centres across the country, but not nearly enough. Waiting lists for treatment can extend for months, too. The range of interventions that Addaction - and other treatment providers - offer dependent drinkers and their families have proved to be effective, but we need the funding to do so much more.
This week, the Scottish government confirmed it was considering imposing a 45p per unit “minimum price” for alcohol, in a bid to solve the nation’s drink problem.
Prime minister David Cameron has also backed plans in Manchester to look into minimum pricing, saying the move could stop Britain’s towns and cities from becoming a “Wild West”.
Beer ‘most popular’ drink
The BBPA study also found that UK taxes remain the highest compared with other EU countries.
Taxes are 10 times higher on alcohol in the UK than in Germany and seven times higher than in France.
The BBPA also found that beer continues to be the pubgoer’s drink of choice – it makes up 60 per cent of all alcohol sales in pubs, hotels and restaurants. Wine is in second place at 17 per cent.
More than £17bn a year is spent on beer, with an average price for a pint of bitter standing at £2.58 and lager for £2.95.
Ms Simmonds added: “This handbook also reminds us of just how vital a role beer and pubs play in the UK economy in terms of turnover, jobs, and tax revenues.
“The new numbers show just how closely linked beer is to Britain’s struggling pubs, with beer accounting for around 60 per cent of on-trade sales. Policy-makers should take note.”