Thursday, 1 March 2018

The excessive taxation of beer

Brewers might not have been happy with the high rate of taxation during the war years, but were prepared to acccept it as necessary temporary evil.

They can't have been happy when the tax on beer increased even more after the end of hostilities. This is an overview of the tax changes around WW I:

Tax per standard barrel 1914 - 1920
Date tax
1914 7s 9d
November 1914 23s
April 1916 24s
April 1917 25s
April 1918 50s
April 1919 70s
April 1920 100s
“The Brewers’ Almanack 1928” pages 100 – 101. 

I'm sure brewers would have been mightily depressed if told that the tax on beer would stay high. It remained at 100s. per barrel until 1931, when it was raised again. Though from 1923 there was a rebate of 20s per bulk barrel, which allowed the price of beer to be reduced by 1d. per pint.

It was also a question of economics. During the war, when wages were high and there was full employment, the high price of beer wasn't such a problem. But by the time the 1920's rolled around the UK economy was performing poorly and there wasn't as much money knocking around.

WITH reductions taking place in wages during 1921, following the gradually diminishing cost of living, complaint of the maintenance of the high price of beer has become more insistent and pronounced. Mention has been made by the chairmen of several brewery companies of the impossibility of any reduction of price to the consumer being made so long as the present excessive taxation of the national beverage is maintained by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That taxation is nearly thirteen times as much as before the War, and with the very greatly lessened spending capacity of the workers, is not unreasonably regarded as punitive, and as having some ulterior object, rather than as existing solely as a revenue-producing device. It is true that, in the financial year 1920-21, the yield of the duty at the rate of 100s. per barrel exceeded the Budget estimate and yielded no less than £123,393,000. That enormous sum taken out of the pockets of the beer drinkers compares with the relatively modest yield of about £13,600,000 in the year 1913-14. That the 100s. duty did not operate in reducing consumption can only be ascribed to the general prosperity which then obtained. The position in 1921-22 is entirely different, and conditions of depression and unemployment in which the nation is living are clearly reflected in the diminishing consumption of beer. For the three months ended June 30 1921, the decrease amounted to 6.5%, and for the three months ended Sept. 30 it had reached 10%. Official figures for the third quarter are not yet available, but no one will be surprised if they indicate a fall of 20% or more. For the complete year, consumption will probably pan out at nearly 20% lower than for the previous year. That would involve a loss of 25 millions to the Exchequer, and should make it manifest to the Chancellor that his duty is being charged at an excessive rate. A pint of beer at standard gravity pays more than 4d. in duty, and a pint at 1039° as nearly as possible 3d.

The Brewers' Society at the close of 1921 were seeking an interview with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to discuss the position. Every brewer recognises the reasonable grievances of the consumer and the hardship which the excessive price of beer entails upon him. But they are quite unable to bring about a reduction unless and until the existing duty is modified. The simplest calculation will prove that to reduce prices by one penny per pint - and any smaller reduction would bo looked upon as useless and merely playing with the question — must cost 24s. per barrel, whatever the gravity or quality of the particular beer may be. The present rate of consumption may be put roughly at not less than 25 million bulk barrels, 24s. on each of which represents a total of £30,000,000. The beer duty was excessively high, even when the masses had plenty of money to spend. It is now, in the sadly altered conditions which prevail, altogether extortionate, and if maintained must defeat its object. And, quite apart from financial considerations, questions of policy and expediency have to be taken into account, and the Government must know that feeling in the country is running high.

In many quarters attempts are made to lay the blame for the high price of beer upon the shoulders of the brewer and he has been attacked by the Press and by the Clubs Union. The salient facts of the situation are:

1. Since 1914 the Beer Duty has been increased from 7s. 9d. to 100s. per standard barrel — equal to 1,190% or nearly thirteen-fold.

2. In 1913-14 the duty paid to the Government was £13,022,000 on over 35 million barrels In l920-2l the duty had reached £123,303,000, although the consumption had fallen to approximately 26.5 million barrels.

3. In 1914 about one-farthing represented taxation out of every 3d. speny on beer. Now the proportion has risen to about 3.5d. out of every 7d.

4. That the consumer cannot afford to pay present prices in clearly indicated by the fall in consumption as shown by the official figures for the first half of 1921-22. That fall has more recently become much accelerated."
Brewers' Almanack 1922, pages 148 - 149. 
The claim that half the price of a pint was tax is about true according to my figures. And that's where it stayed for the rest of the 1920s

Like so many aspects of British beer, the pattern for the rest of the century was set just after the war's end. British beer would continue to be very highly taxed.

I've just worked out why Guinness Extra Stout had an OG of 1055º in the 1920s.

No comments: