Yes, we are drinking more than we did in the immediate post-war years. An economic depression sandwiched by two world wars reduced alcohol consumption to the lowest in our history, but austerity Britain can hardly be considered a typical reference point. Using more relevant benchmarks, we are drinking less than we did in 1914 and very much less than we did in previous centuries. We are drinking only marginally more than we did thirty years ago and—here is a seldom spoken truth—we are drinking less than we did in 2002.
Yes, there are millions of us who exceed our ‘daily limits’ (they’re actually weekly guidelines). How could we not? These guidelines were not based on any real evidence when they were set in 1987 and methodological changes have since dragged several million more of us over the line of ‘hazardous drinking’. Limits that do not allow for tipsiness, let alone drunkenness, deserve to be ignored and yet the percentage of men and women drinking above the ‘limits’ has still been falling for a decade, with the largest decline seen amongst young men.
By comparison with our European neighbours, we are firmly mid-table in the alcohol consumption stakes, behind France, Germany and Spain and far behind the Czech Republic and Luxembourg. In terms of alcohol taxation, however, we are Champions League contenders. The UK has the second highest excise duty on wine, the third highest excise duty on beer and the fourth highest excise duty on spirits. ‘Rip-off Britain’, perhaps, but hardly ‘Boozy Britain’.
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