Saturday, 12 September 2015

Wicked taxation

Recurring themes. British brewing has lots of them. Complaining about the high level of taxation is one.

This letter to a newspaper bangs away on that theme for a while, but also throws in fags and widespread pub closures. Sounds very modern, doesn’t it?

“Sir, —As a result the fantastic, crippling, wicked taxation now thrust upon a long-suffering nation, allied with the outrageously high cost living (and money tighter), it was not surprising to read in the newspapers recently that over a million pounds had been knocked off brewery shares on the Stock Exchange.

The fact that 2,000,000 barrels of beer less were sold in 1949 speaks for itself. It clearly shows the public are at long last becoming wiser, by getting their backs up and adopting a typical bull-dog grim-like attitude in a firm refusal to pay the grossly unfair 9d. tax on a 1s. pint of weak beer. It would not be so bad if the 1s. pint of beer was 100 per cent strong ale, but the fact that it is of such low gravity, not much stronger than lemonade, is adding insult to injury far as the customer is concerned.

What a striking contrast to the war years, when with plenty of money about and production of beer supplies restricted, the harassed publican on his meagre daily allocation (so as to keep open all the week) very often was compelled to put the towel over the beer engine pumps, and display notices on the counters, "No more beer to-night," at approximately 9 o'clock each evening.

What a sensational difference to-day, with mostly 5-day working week, practically all bonus cut, resulting in less money being earned by workers in general. It is only natural that considerable hardship is bound to be felt by those workers who have families to support, and of those who enter into this category the majority will find that it is more or less a week-end adventure, i.e., such as paying a small subscription in to the local Thrift Christmas Club on a Friday evening (a couple of pints will probably be the limit), and then he is finished until the following week-end.

Also the fantastic tax on cigarettes clearly reveals why there is such a slump on the "Beer Front," a smoke is still a long odds-on favourite with workers in general, which obviously means that most of us cannot afford indulge in both vices.

Unless something drastic is done quickly, such as 3d. or 4d. reduction on a pint of beer, and the beer produced on the pre-war 100 per cent strong beer scale, I can visualise many publicans closing down, for the public are thoroughly browned off.
5, Albany-road,
Tivoli, Cheltenham.”
Gloucestershire Echo - Friday 03 February 1950, page 4.

You might be forgiven for thinking that 9d a pint in tax is an exaggeration. It isn’t. At the start of 1949, the tax rate was 364s 4.5d per standard barrel. For a beer of average gravity for that year, 1033.4º, that works out to 9.25d per ping. The rate was dropped to 343s 4.5d a standard barrel in April. Which is a mere 8.71d per pint. You can understand why the letter writer found that wicked.

A 3d or 4d reduction per pint would have cost the government a lot of money. OK, consumption would most likely have increased, but not enough to offset the lower rate. Beer was an important revenue source: £294,678,035 in 1949. Hang on. Consumption couldn’t have increased naturally, as brewing materials were still controlled. Revenues would inevitably have fallen.

I’ve always thought of the immediate post-war period as one of full employment. It was. But if you’d got used to lots of overtime during WW II, you might have seen your income fall. I seem to remember my Mum telling me that she worked 12 hours a day for some of the war. And a lot of wartime worked paid well. The combination of fewer hours and a lower hourly rate must have really hit incomes. How ironic that when there was as much beer to be had as you wanted, many didn’t have the money to buy it.

Temperance bastards got all annoyed about beer not being rationed in WW II. But effectively, it was. Or at least the supply of beer was rationed. Brewers were told how beer they could brew (a percentage of their 1939 output). They were very careful about who they sent beer to and how much they sent. Just like the publican putting a towel over his pumps long before closing time, ekeing out what they had as best they could.

More 1950's craziness soon.


Alan said...

Did military towns get a preferential share of the beer there in WW2? That was done in Canada much to the annoyance of factory workers in non-military cities.

Ron Pattinson said...


I know Churchill said that troops were to get preference in beer supplies. Not sure what thaat added up to in practical terms.

chris house said...

So how much was a pint of 3-4% beer back in the 1940's and 50's as my grandad use to tell me bitter and mild was his drink and it was cheap ?? also I wonder how cheap where Samuel Smiths and Social and Sporting clubs e.g. LocalRugby and Cricket clubs.

Ron Pattinson said...

Chris House,

in 1940, Mild was 8d a pint, Ordinary Bitter 10d. In the 1950's Mild was around 1s 2d a pint, Ordinary Bitter 1s 3d and Best Bitter 1s 6d.