High earners in professional jobs, such as doctors, lawyers and teachers, are much more likely to be regular alcohol drinkers than those on average incomes, according to the latest official figures.
The data from two reports shows that people earning more than £40,000 a year like their wine, beer or whisky, and can afford it. Four out of five (79%) in England said they had drunk alcohol in the previous week – a question used to measure drinking habits in surveys – compared with 58% of all adults.
Drinking rises steadily with socioeconomic status: people whose work is classified as routine and manual, including labourers, receptionists and care workers, were the least likely to have had alcohol in the week before they were asked.
The reports come from NHS Digital (England only) and the Office for National Statistics. The ONS Opinions and Lifestyle Survey shows that in Great Britain in 2017, an estimated 29.2 million adults said they had drunk alcohol in the week before they were asked.
England had the highest proportion of adults who said they drank alcohol in the previous week (57.8%), followed by Scotland (53.5%) and then Wales (50.0%); of the English regions, among consumers of alcohol, binge drinking was more common in the north-west and least common in the south-east.
How much people drink varies with age. A fifth of people said they did not drink at all. They were most likely to be between 25 and 64. Those most likely to drink were over 65.
When the young drink, they are the most likely to binge on Friday and Saturday nights and then not drink for the rest of the week.
Data from previous years in the Health Survey for England showed the most harmful drinking was among middle-aged people, who were more likely to drink every day.
“Middle-class drinkers are unlikely to pay attention to government health warnings as they may be less likely to get excessively drunk, and can withstand increases in prices,” said Steve Clarke, an alcohol addiction therapy services manager with the Priory Group.
“The over-45s particularly are drinking more regularly but not thinking they’re in danger. But they are drinking four, five, six days a week and it all adds up. In 2016-17 [in England] there were 337,000 estimated hospital admissions attributable to alcohol – that’s a jump of 17%, nearly a fifth, on 2006-07,” he said.
The data was published on Tuesday, the day Scotland introduces minimum unit pricing after a long fight with the alcohol industry, which challenged its legality in the courts.
The ONS findings support other evidence that price is a big factor in people’s drinking habits.
Campaigners and experts hope minimum unit pricing will lead people, especially the most vulnerable, to forgo the strongest drinks because they will become more expensive. They are lobbying for England to follow Scotland’s example.
“The Westminster government should now follow Scotland’s lead, and introduce MUP in England,” said Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, a coalition of more than 50 expert organisations.
“Cheap alcohol is wrecking lives and livelihoods in England as well as Scotland. There are more than 23,000 deaths a year in England linked to alcohol, and many of these come from the poorest and most vulnerable sections of society.
“Minimum unit pricing will save lives, cut crime and benefit the public finances. At the same time, pub prices will be left untouched, and moderate drinkers will barely notice the difference under MUP.
“Any delay in implementing MUP in England will only cost lives and lead to unnecessary alcohol-related harm. We urge the Westminster government to act now,” said Gilmore.
Minimum unit pricing sets the lowest price at which a unit of alcohol can be sold, which in Scotland is now 50p. A pint of beer containing two units will now have to cost at least £1, and a bottle of wine containing nine units will have to cost at least £4.50. But the biggest impact will be on the very strong ciders and other strong alcoholic drinks that have been very cheap and are often bought by alcoholics.
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