Total alcohol sales drop in early pandemic as off-sales totals soar almost 30%

Craig Paton, PA Scotland Political Reporter

Sales of alcohol per adult dropped by 6% in the early part of lockdown, a new study has shown.

Research by Public Health Scotland and the University of Glasgow found the drop in Scotland as well as England and Wales between mid-March and July 11 last year.

Instead of assessing how many alcoholic items were purchased, the researchers were able to use purchase data and calculate the volume of pure alcohol based on the strength of drinks purchased to calculate the totals.

Lockdown took effect on March 23, with pubs and restaurants forced to close.

Compared to what would be expected, had physical distancing measures not been put in place, the volume of pure alcohol bought by people in Great Britain dropped by 6%.

A significant spike in off-sales – 28% in Scotland and 29% in England and Wales – was not enough to offset the drop caused by the onset of the pandemic.

Scotland’s public health minister Mairi Gougeon has said the report shows a “welcome reduction” in alcohol consumption, adding: “We will continue to track and monitor the effect of the pandemic on harm that alcohol can cause.”

According to a self-reporting survey done as part of the research, Scotland saw a rise of 35% of people who said they would drink on their own, while England reported a 12% rise.

Ms Gougeon added: “We know that lower levels of consumption overall can sometimes mask the alcohol intake of individuals. Notably, one of the findings from self-reported surveys shows an increase in people drinking on their own in both Scotland and England.

“These studies provide valuable insight allowing us to gauge the impact of alcohol sales and consumption during the period when restrictions were in place.”

Daniel Mackay, professor of public health informatics at Glasgow University, said: “These results show that after taking into account underlying trends, seasonal patterns and factors such as household income and other drink types, alcohol sales in Scotland fell by 6% as a result of Covid lockdown restrictions.”

The research also found those in the UK stockpiled alcohol in the week before the lockdown was announced.

In the week up to March 21, off-sales trade in Scotland increased by 42% when compared to the average between 2017 and 2019, while England and Wales saw a similar spike of 49%.

The following week, the first week of lockdown, saw alcohol sales drop by 25% across Britain based on the average, which the researchers say reaffirms the assertion that stockpiling occurred the week prior.

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