You’ll probably have heard this comment many times recently; pubs are dying in the United Kingdom. There are a lot of reasons given, from “Pubs are too expensive” to “We don’t have a community spirit anymore”, all the way to my personal favourite: “It is because of Millennials”.
Luckily for us, we have a recent Office of National Statistics analysis into this industry to get an indication of its health, and for us to apply statistics and give answers to the hypotheses created by those who speculate while gulping down their fifth pint of ale on ‘Curry Thursday’ at the local public house.
The opinions we hear are echoed by organisations such as the Campaign for Real Ale, and the British Beer and Pub Association who have been monitoring the ‘decline’ of pubs for a while now.
The ONS study shows us that we have seen around 11,000 pubs closing their doors since 2008; this amounts to around 25% of the total pub ‘population’. There are now 39,000 pubs currently open to the public in the United Kingdom.
The study then goes further to mention that the majority of those 11,000 pubs that have closed are small pubs, whilst those who focus on larger pubs have been consolidating their businesses around that business model.
Perhaps it is no surprise that a small pub with a small dedicated following, is failing to survive in an economy where the large pubs which can serve as a hub for social activity, thrive.
Number of Pubs
On a purely absolute level, it would seem that pubs are indeed on the decline, but what this analysis neglects, is to look at the total level of activity, or aggregate demand.
The data shows clearly that despite there being a 25% decrease in the total number of pubs in the United Kingdom, the turnover of pubs is actually stable.
This means that even though the number of pubs declined, the average revenue generated by the remaining pubs increased, to the point where the aggregate demand remained the same.
Total Turnover inc. VAT, £m
Furthermore, a useful indicator outlined by the study was the total number of jobs that are available in these pubs – this is a great way to see how active the average pub was for each of these years.
Number of Employees by Pub
All things considered, there are now 6% more jobs in pubs and bars than in 2008.
Despite a dip shown in the graph around the financial crisis, the general trend has been one of positivity.
The most pronounced increase has been seen in pubs which have at least 10 employees working there, and perhaps is an indication that their popularity is linked to the fact that more are offering food to go with your evening pint, where hiring kitchen and waiting staff in addition to the bartenders is necessary.
Looking into the data, we are able to see that in ten years since 2008, the average number of employees per pub/bar has increased from five, to eight.
However, a concerning statistic is that around 70% of the workers in these pubs and bars are paid less than the Living Wage (defined as the minimum wage able to maintain a standard level of living).
The current Living Wage in the United Kingdom (as of 2018) is £10.55 in London, and £9 for everywhere else.
Waiting staff, and bartenders are likely to earn more in tips, but this does highlight a worrying situation where the base pay is not enough to sustain the expected level of living for these employees.
There is also a useful analysis into the urban vs rural divide. Interestingly, rural pubs have seen a total increase in employment in the last ten years of around 17%, whereas urban pubs have had a modest 4% increase in the same period.
Areas Where Pub Numbers Fell
|Rank||Area name||No. in |
|No. in |
|8||Antrim and Newtownabbey||50||30||-40.00%|
Areas Where Pub Numbers Rose
|Rank||Area name||No. in |
|No. in |
|6||Newcastle upon Tyne||190||195||2.63%|
When analysing by area, there are a number of places which have seen their number of pubs fall by almost half; a trend shows that the majority of these towns and cities which have seen the biggest declines, lie in the commuter belts for larger cities.
Newham, Luton, and Barking and Dagenham have all seen large declines, and are situated in or around London. Similarly, Burnley, Rochdale and Bolton have seen sharp declines around Manchester, and Dudley, Walsall and Sandwell have too declined around Birmingham.
Northern Ireland perhaps had the most pronounced decline in numbers, with all areas showing fewer pubs in 2018 than in 2008.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is the booming pub industry in Hackney, which has a reputation as an up and coming area in London, known for its five mile craft beer crawl which visits eight key pubs or taprooms.
The area saw an incredible 42% increase in the number of pubs or bars in the last decade, and perhaps can owe its popularity to tourism.
Similar stories to Hackney are observed in other tourist hotspots; Scarborough, Brighton and Blackpool have held strong in England, with Ceredigion in Wales, and Highland Scotland doing the same.
Overall, the analysis has shown that while the number of pubs has fallen, the demand for pubs hasn’t suffered.
The number of pubs that have closed their doors in the last ten years has been the small, independent pubs, whilst it is the large, independent pubs which are on the rise.
Even those small pub chains which haven’t closed have seen this trend, and are changing their focus to offer more than just alcohol.
Large companies such as Wetherspoon’s have also propagated this trend, and have been closing their smaller pubs in favour of putting more effort into their bigger bars.
The next time your friend tells you that pubs are slowly disappearing, point them to the evidence, and take comfort knowing that as the demand continues to remain stable, you are unlikely to see the last pub close its doors in your lifetime.