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Pub-goers are skeptical of U.K. government decision to cut the tax on pints in pubs

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

It has been another dreary summer in the U.K. - in fact, one of the rainiest Julys on record - and the country is dealing with some of the highest inflation in Western Europe. Almost everything, from food to fuel to rent, is getting more expensive, except for one staple of British life, as NPR's Lauren Frayer reports from under an umbrella in London.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Brits huddle under awnings at happy hour, bemoaning a cost-of-living crisis.

FINN WESTBROOK: My rent's gone up a lot recently. I've watched things go up in price, normal things I buy - the sandwich shops, something like that.

FRAYER: But for pubgoer Finn Westbrook, grabbing a pint after work - it's non-negotiable.

WESTBROOK: I guess in other countries, people go for coffee with their friends. You go for a beer here. This is what we do.

FRAYER: Recognizing that, the U.K. government this month cut the tax on pints in pubs. Here's the U.K.'s finance minister, Jeremy Hunt, announcing it in a video clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEREMY HUNT: Well, we're calling this the Brexit Pubs Guarantee. The duty for a pint in a pub will always be less than the duty for a pint in a supermarket.

FRAYER: The government calls this the biggest overhaul of alcohol tax in a century. It does not have much to do with Brexit, though. The U.K. could always set its own tax rates. It likely has more to do with an election coming next year. And the British equivalent of kissing babies on the campaign trail is pulling a pint in the local pub. But when Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who is actually a teetotaler, did a photo op behind a bar at a beer festival...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Prime Minister, oh, the irony.

FRAYER: ...He got heckled mercilessly.

CLAER BARRETT: Lauren, should we go to the bar?

FRAYER: Yes.

Claer Barrett is the Financial Times consumer affairs editor, and we grabbed a drink.

Given tax policy in Britain right now, what should we order?

BARRETT: I'm just going to stick with what I love, the quintessentially British drink of gin and tonic.

FRAYER: Now, Claer must really love her, G&T because this new tax scheme could give her wallet a hangover. Gin is more expensive - so are most wines - because tax is now based on the drink's alcohol percentage.

BARRETT: I'm very fond of a Malbec from Argentina. Often, they're 14, 15%. That could go up by nearly a pound, or about $1.27.

FRAYER: So most drinkers may actually have to pay more despite how the government is spinning this.

BARRETT: I don't think, however much they've had to drink, the British public are that stupid. We all know that the tax screw is being twisted.

FRAYER: The tax screw is being twisted, she says. And government coffers will be filling up, which is the whole pint - sorry, point of this.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRINK POURING)

FRAYER: There is something to raise a glass to here though. Weak draught ale is getting cheaper - up to 11 pence cheaper per pint. That's if pubs pass this tax savings onto customers though. Now, 11 pence is about 14 U.S. cents and not enough to win bartender Lewis Munro's vote, he says.

LEWIS MUNRO: It's not that much these days because a pint is about six, seven quid.

FRAYER: That's almost $9.

MUNRO: I only go to my local, which is a rundown pub. It's pretty scummy inside. I go there 'cause three pounds something for a pint.

FRAYER: The only thing better than a drink, he says, is a bargain.

(SOUNDBITE OF ICE CLINKING)

FRAYER: Lauren Frayer, NPR News, London.

(SOUNDBITE OF PALE SAINTS' "PORPOISE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.
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