James Nicholls: Binge drinking is only one facet of a wider culture of consumer excess

Share
Related Topics

From historically low levels in the first half of the twentieth century, UK alcohol consumption has been steadily rising since the early 1960s.

Wine represents by far the biggest proportion of this increase, although spirit consumption has also risen sharply. One factor is changing tastes; another is the globalization of production and the enormous range of affordable wines we now have access to. Most significant, however, is the rapid expansion in off-sales which began after changes to licensing in 1961 made it easier for supermarkets to sell alcohol.

The rise in off-sales has changed British drinking culture enormously. Today more people drink at home than in pubs and bars, and more people drink heavily at home than in bars. City-centre drunkenness is also exacerbated by drinkers ‘preloading’ on cheap alcohol before making their way to the pub or club.

More recent policy decisions have also had an impact. In 1990, anti-monopoly legislation forced the largest brewers to sell off most of their tied houses. One unintended outcome was that a raft retail-oriented pub chains stepped into the market, developing new bars designed to foster rapid turnover and high unit sales. At the same time central government encouraged a relaxed approach to licensing as local authorities sought to regenerate city centres through investment in the night-time economy. Consequently, by the late 1990s (long before the introduction of 24-hour licensing) many city centres had high concentrations of bars, with large numbers operating extended opening hours.

The drinks industry also changed in the 1990s. Partly in response to the threat posed by rave culture, manufacturers began targeting young consumers with new drinks. Point-of-sale promotions of shots and chasers, two-for-one offers and girls-go-free nights represented a historically unique attempt to market alcohol as a kind of party drug. These developments, of course, coincided with the rampant consumerism of Boom Britannia; binge drinking, we should remember, is only one facet of a wider culture of consumer excess. Nor is it confined to young people: 25-44 year olds drink just as heavily overall, and those with better paid jobs drink more than those on low incomes.

UK alcohol consumption is now flatlining from a historically high peak in 2003. At the same time pub sales are declining while supermarket sales continue to increase. However, while politicians face pressure to tackle the affordability of alcohol, it remains unclear whether this is a policy they feel will win votes as the recession bites and the General Election looms.

James Nicholls is a Senior Lecturer at Bath Spa University. His book The politics of alcohol: a history of the drink question in England is published by Manchester University Press



React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ed Miliband created a crisis of confidence about himself within Labour when he forgot to mention the deficit in his party conference speech  

The political parties aren't all the same – which means 2015 will be a 'big-choice' election

Andrew Grice
 

Beware of the jovial buffoon who picks fights overseas

Boyd Tonkin
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all