Cost of alcohol credited for drop in serious violence in England and Wales

  • Post category:World News

A decline in binge drinking and the rising price of alcoholis behind a dramatic 12% fall in the number of people injured in serious violence across England and Wales last year, a pioneering academic research study claims.

From The Guardian

An estimated 234,509 people sought treatment at hospital accident and emergency departments across England and Wales in 2013 – 32,780 fewer than in 2012, according to the national violence surveillance network developed by Cardiff University.

Professor Jonathan Shepherd, director of the university’s violence and society research group, said figures showed there had been a sustained fall in levels of serious violence in every year since 2001, apart from a 7% rise in 2008.

“Violence is falling in many western countries and we don’t know all the reasons why,” Shepherd said. But he said changes in alcohol habits was a probable explanation.

“Binge drinking has become less frequent, and the proportion of youth who don’t drink alcohol at all has risen sharply. Also, after decades in which alcohol has become more affordable, since 2008 it has become less affordable. For people most prone to involvement in violence – those aged 18 to 30 – falls in disposable income are probably an important factor.”

Shepherd is a Home Office scientific adviser whose research has included establishing a link between alcohol prices and the rate of violent assaults in England and Wales.

The latest findings of the Cardiff University A&E study are likely to fuel the debate over the introduction of a statutory minimum unit price for alcohol.

A Home Office ban on deeply discounted “below cost” sales of alcohol came into effect this month but affects only 1% of drink sales. A plan for a minimum unit price was shelved last year in the face of drinks industry opposition.

The Cardiff study confirms recent findings from the annual crime survey of England and Wales on the declining levels of violent crime. The crime survey figures for 2013 are to be published on Thursday.

It also echoes NHS statistics showing that young teenagers today are much healthier than previous generations.

Just 12% of 11-15-year-olds said they had drunk alcohol in the previous week in 2011, down from 26% a decade earlier. The pattern is similar among older teenagers and young adults, with 48% of 16-26-year-olds saying they had had an alcoholic drink in the previous week in 2010, compared with 71% in 1998.

The current generation of teenagers also show a similar lack of interest in using drugs or smoking, with the percentage who have ever tried an illicit drug down from 27% to 17% over the past decade.

Shepherd said the reasons for the falls in violent crime were likely to be complex and could include structural factors such as unemployment, poverty and inequality as well as public health and criminal justice prevention initiatives.

“In addition, since 2008 affordability of alcohol has decreased, the real price of alcohol in both the on-trade and the off-trade has increased and UK alcohol consumption levels have decreased from 10.8 litres per capita in 2008 to 10 litres per capita in 2011. These factors may partly explain the falls in serious violence in England and Wales.”

In the past five years particular attention has been paid to curbing cut-price supermarket deals that can encourage “pre-loading” at home by young people before they go out for a night on the town.

The findings of the Cardiff study are based on returns from a sample of 117 emergency departments, minor injury units and walk-in centres covering about a third of the total in England and Wales. They show that the age group most at risk from violence continues to be males aged 18-30, with victims going for treatment most frequently on Saturdays and Sundays.

The collection of A&E data across England and Wales followed the discovery that large numbers of violent incidents that resulted in hospital treatment were not known to the police, largely because they were not being reported by those injured.

The findings show that the numbers treated for serious violence in 2013 fell across all age groups. The largest fall – 18% – was among those aged 11-17 years, followed by a 14% drop among those aged 18 to 30, and 9% among those aged 30 to 50 years. The decline in the number of women and girls injured was four times greater than that for men and boys at 11% compared with 2.4%.