Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The 1909 People's Budget

Funny how I see everything through beer glasses. Or at least spectacles. It colours the way I think about Lloyg George's 1909 "People's Budget".

It was a landmark for a couple of reasons. First because it was an attempt to not just set up a basic system of social security, but also to redistribute wealth from rich to poor. I won't go through all the details, but there were various new taxes on landowners and high earners. Which pissed off wealthy landowners a treat and they just happened to dominate the House of Lords. Which leads on to the second reason why it's so important: its rejection by the Lords precipitated the reform that removed their power of absolute veto in 1911. A landmark in British constitutional history. All very admirable stuff

Except, Lloyd George being a temperance twat, he also slipped a tax increase on beer into the budget. One that got brewers, publicans and drinkers all riled up. Now rich landowners I haven't got a great deal of time for. But the brewing industry is another matter. I feel sympathy with this point of view:

"The whole contention of the pro-Budget faction is, however, that the Trade is organised gang of quick-witted knaves, lying in wait for an opportunity to victimise the public, under cover of the Budget. How does this square with the actual facts? True, the new tax on beer amounts to only 3d. a barrel, and obviously there is no coin small enough to adjust the difference between retailer and consumer. seeing that a barrel of beer contains 288 pints. But, as a simple matter of fact, the increased taxation on the licensed trade amounts, in all, not to 3d. but to 3s. barrel. This is admitted by the Star and—much more important—it has been proved to the hilt by the calculations of experts. The difference between 3d. and 3s. is made up by the proposed new licence duties. Whether the tax-gatherer comes along at the moment a brew is made or waits until the beer is taken to the place of sale, the result is the same. The money has to be paid to the Revenue.

Even before the Budget proposals, beer was so highly taxed that there was no great margin of profit — no so much, for example, as on the sale of so-called " temperance" drinks, some of which, the way, contain greater percentage of alcohol than mild ale. An official in the town Burnley took samples from one shop for analysis, and these, after having been returned from the laboratory, were certified to contain alcohol in percentage higher than any of the beer brewed by the local brewers. it not grossly and iniquitouslv unjust that the beerdrinker should be penalised the Budget, while the man who slakes his thirst with "fortified" herb beer or dandelion stout goes off scot-free?

As matters stand under our Effete Cobdenite system, the working man's pocket-money is so limited that he cannot afford to pay more money for his beer. While the price must because the Trade cannot stand the strain increased taxation, the consumption must down because the working-man cannot stand increased drain his pocket. He must drink less for the money. That is just what is happening in London now. The same amount of money is being paid, but one-fifth less beer is obtained for it."
Leamington Spa Courier - Friday 03 September 1909, page 6.

The proposal was to raise the tax on beer for 7s 9d to 8s per standard barrel (36 gallons with an OG of 1055º). A really awkward amount because, as the article above states, there was no coin as small as a 288th of 3d. Even the 3s. that all the other taxes were claimed to amount to is a pretty small amount per pint - an eighth of a pence. Though, as that's the wholesale price, I guess it equated to a farthing (a quarter penny and the smallest coin) per pint. Still leaves you a problem with the price of a half pint.

Brewers would, in all probability, simply have reduced their gravities so they could sell the beer at the same price. It was the simplest way of adjusting the proce to take into account the extra tax. I say "would" because in the end the tax increase was revoked. Brewers and drinkers had, at least in the short term, won. Not that it lasted long. Lloyd George got his revenge at the start of WW I, raising the beer tax to 23s a standard barrel. An increase of almost 300%. Bastard.


Phil said...

I want to know about the boozers of Burnley getting smashed on fortified herb beer and dandelion stout. What ABV was "greater ... than mild ale"?

Ron Pattinson said...


at that time Mild would have been around 5% ABV.