UK alcohol consumption in 2010 remains far lower than it was six years ago, despite rising slightly in 2010, according to the latest annual edition of the British Beer and Pub Association's (BBPA) Statistical Handbook 2011.
Consumption per head rose 0.6% last year, but the BBPA said that meant it was still 11% lower than in 2004 when a decline in consumption began. It also means the UK ranks below the European average in terms of consumption.
These hard figures, based on Treasury tax returns, prompted a call from BBPA chief executive Brigid Simmonds for a debate "firmly based" on the facts.
The figures also showed that the "tax gap" between what Britons pay on alcohol compared with their European neighbours was growing, with British alcohol taxes now the second highest in the EU on beer and wine, and the fourth highest on spirits.
UK taxes are now eight times higher than France, and 11 times higher than Germany and now outstrip those of traditional high-tax regimes in Scandinavia, with the sole exception of Finland, according to the association.
Commenting on the findings, Simmonds said: "When it comes to alcohol, we need a debate based on the hard facts. Alcohol consumption per head is 11% lower than it was in 2004. Tax rates have soared to unprecedented levels at a time when household budgets are stretched. Huge, 35% rises in beer taxes in the past three years have been deeply damaging to British brewers, who operate one of our most innovative and successful manufacturing industries.
"The number of those drinking above health guidelines has been falling for a number of years and industry is rightly investing in responsible drinking campaigns - yet some still demand ever increasing restrictions and taxes. It's time the debate caught up with the hard facts."
Other key facts about Britain's drinking to emerge in the new report included:
The average price of a British pub pint has broken the £3 barrier - partly due to huge tax increases.
The North East is the cheapest region for a beer, whereas London is almost 50% more expensive. The cheapest region for a glass of wine in a pub is the Midlands, whereas Wales is cheapest for spirits.
Off-trade (supermarket and shop) sales of beer now account for almost 50% of total sales.
By Neil Gerrard
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