Thursday, 10 June 2021

Did Brits drink more under lockdown?

As the Daily Mail reports, people in the UK supposedly drank more alcohol than usual during the first lockdown...
Alcohol consumption fell in countries across Europe during the Covid pandemic – but not in the UK.

Across 21 European countries, the UK was the only one to see an increase in drinking, a study has found.

Researchers surveyed almost 32,000 people across Europe, including 836 in the UK, between April and July last year.

So the claim about the UK comes from a survey of 836 people? This doesn't sound good.

The study, such as it is, has been published in Addiction. It was not just a survey, it was an online survey that people heard about via "social media and postings on institutional websites, via press releases, or student and professional networks". This self-selecting group of people filled in the survey, presumably just once, between 24 April and 22 July 2020.
Based on this sliver of information, the authors conclude that there was a 10 per cent increase in alcohol consumption in the UK.
Of all the countries examined in our project, only the United Kingdom reported a significant mean increase in alcohol consumption. In Ireland, no statistically significant change was reported.

The problem is that we don't need to survey a few hundred people to find out how much people are drinking. We literally have the receipts. In the UK...

The total volume of alcohol sold during lockdown (the 17 weeks to 11 July 2020) fell to 1.3bn litres, down from 2bn the previous year, data from Nielsen Scantrack and the CGA found, despite value sales through the major retailers rising £1.9bn over the same period.

Sales of booze at the supermarket during the four month period hit £7.7bn, it said, however with the on-trade remaining shut, the overall volume of alcohol bought in the UK was far lower than last year, despite the increase in value.

Overall, according to the Euromonitor International Proprietary Alcoholic Drinks data, alcohol sales fell by 10.1% in the UK in 2020 and by 6.6% in Ireland

We also have the tax receipts from HMRC which show that the government received less alcohol duty revenue in April-July 2020 than in the previous year. The decline shown below actually understates the size of the drop because there was a switch from beer to wine and spirits under lockdown. A unit of beer is taxed at a lower rate than a unit of wine or spirits. The number of units sold therefore declined more sharply than the amount of tax received.

And if you're wondering whether people were just drinking all the alcohol they stockpiled before the lockdown, alcohol duty receipts in January to April were also lower than in 2019. (It should be noted that the pandemic caused some delays in tax payment, but the totals for 2019/20 and 2020/21 were no higher than 2018/19.)

This kind of evidence is pretty hard to argue against. Unless the British public were making moonshine on in industrial scale, there is absolutely no chance that they were drinking more under lockdown, or in 2020 as a whole, than they normally would. 

All the study in Addiction shows is that people in 'public health' can get any old rubbish published in a peer-reviewed journal. If this is what they are doing when their claims can be easily tested, what are they getting up to the rest of the time?

No comments: