160209 Decline of the pub
  • From 100,000… At last, we arrive at a really important subject: the pub. Their numbers in Britain since 1980 are shown in the graph above, but, thanks to the work of Peter Haydon, quoted in this fine IEA pamphlet by Christopher Snowdon, we can go back further than that. There were around 100,000 pubs at the turn of the 20th Century. By 1980, after decades of swingeing policies and changing habits, they had dwindled to about 69,000.
  • …to 52,000. What about since 1980? The figures from the British Beer & Pub Association’s Statistical Handbook reveal a terrible, downwards trend: from 69,000 to 51,900 in 2014. But there have been fluctuations within that. In the 14 years between 1980 and 1994, the number of pubs fell by 12 per cent. In the five years after that, it actually rose by 1 per cent. Then it declined by almost 16 per cent during the 15 years from 1999 to 2014.
  • The causes of the effects. Causes are always tricky things to identify, particularly when there are likely to be dozens of them, as in this case: the imposition of taxes that make alcoholic drinks more expensive in Britain than in most of the rest of Europe; the declining popularity of beer; the sale of ever-cheaper booze in supermarkets, etc, etc. But the IEA pamphlet suggests that something more specific might have been happening recently: “the UK’s smoking bans correlate more closely with the collapse in pub numbers than any other factor, including the recession and the duty escalator.”
  • It’s not all bad news. Thankfully, pubs aren’t going gentle into the night: the rate of closure has actually slowed recently, according to CAMRA’s calculations, from 29 a week in the first half of 2015 to 27 a week in the second half. The Government may wish to claim the credit for this, having introduced various policies to support pubs over the past few years, but it’s dubitable whether they’ve had as great an effect as have broader cultural developments. The micropub, born in Kent ten years ago and proliferating across the country, suggests a new taste for local ales served locally.
  • Your local pub needs you! Yet the sorry truth is that pubs will continue to struggle – most forecasts suggest that thousands more will be lost across the coming decade. The only answer is to drink, whether in defiance or in sorrow. They are too fine an institution to be allowed to perish.

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