Thursday, 25 July 2019

How much tax did beer drinkers pay during WW II?

I'm sure you've often wondered how much beer drinkers contributed to the UK's finances during WW II. A shedload would be a reasonable guess.

I already had the figures, but was only prompted to add them up when I came across this little article:

During the ten war and post-war years 1939-48 Britain's beer-drinkers, contributed through excise duty alone nearly £2,000 millions towards the country's revenue. The precise figure was £1,989,631.848. This and other surprising facts are revealed by the just-published handbook, Brewers' Almanack.

Now, however, the beer revenue is dropping rapidly because of the slump in beer-drinking, and to-day's tax of ninepence on the average public bar pint is yielding no more than did the sevenpence pint tax of two years ago.

Hopes for a return to better beer are suggested by the facts that the home barley yield has increased from 17,840,000 cwt in 1939 to 29,260,000cwt, in 1947; the hop yield has risen from 288,000 to 300,000 cwt, the wartime use of flaked barley and oats as brewing substitute is no longer compulsory, and brewers are now free to revert to the full use of malt.

Recent evidence of diminish-ing returns from high taxation may presage cheaper beer."
Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette - Wednesday 23 March 1949, page 4.
The number for WW II is obviously less than £2,000 million. Here are the full figures, plus some other numbers for fun:

UK beer output, tax and average OG 1939 - 1948
year bulk barrels Total Tax £ average OG
1939 24,674,992 62,370,034 1040.93
1940 25,366,782 75,157,022 1040.62
1941 26,203,803 133,450,205 1038.51
1942 29,860,798 157,254,430 1035.53
1943 29,296,672 209,584,343 1034.34
1944 30,478,289 263,170,703 1034.63
1945 31,332,852 278,876,870 1034.54
1946 32,650,200 295,305,369 1034.72
1947 29,261,398 250,350,829 1032.59
1948 30,408,634 264,112,043 1032.66
Total 1,989,631,848
1955 Brewers' Almanack, pages 50 & 80.

My numbers tally exactly with those in the article. Not surprising, as the source is the same.

Almost forgot, I promised to tell you how much tax was paid on beer during the war. It was £1,179,863,607. Which even today, after 75 years of inflation, is still an enormous sum.

Turning to another point made in the article, yes brewers no longer had to use oats and flaked barley. But that didn't mean they "reverted" to brewing all-malt. As most brewers had never worked that way. What really happened was that they went back to using flaked maize instead of flaked barley.

Note that the cheery article didn't mention that beer wasn't really getting any stronger. Though it was up minutely on its nadir, which was in 1947.

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