Of the 1.4 million violent incidents reported in England and Wales last year, two of every five (39%) were alcohol-related. Last week, I published findings through the Institute of Alcohol Studies that show who suffers the most.
Using five years’ worth of data from the Crime Survey for England and Wales, alcohol-related violent victimisation – violence where the victim believes the perpetrator was under the influence of alcohol – was disproportionately clustered among the lowest socioeconomic groups. Alcohol-related domestic and acquaintance violence, which is overwhelmingly a function of repeat victimisation, drives this inequality. For instance, compared to the most advantaged groups, those in the most disadvantaged groups had experienced as many as 14 times the number of incidents of alcohol-related domestic violence per 1000 people.
These findings are shocking yet unsurprising. Research repeatedly shows that the most disadvantaged groups are not only at higher risk of violent victimisation overall, but they also present higher levels of alcohol-related mortality and ill health despite drinking less. Policy action is necessary.
First, we should improve access to publicly-funded domestic violence services. Severe austerity-driven cuts to these services hurt those in lower socioeconomic groups the most, and reduced their “propensity…to escape violence“. The concern extends beyond losing services altogether, or services that continue to operate without sufficient funding to provide a duty of care to clients: we know that even defunded services put people at risk.
Second, while in any given situation, alcohol may not be “the only or even the primary determinant of whether violence will occur“, we know it is a contributory factor. A wealth of evidence suggests that increasing the price of alcohol reduces population-wide violence. A policy of minimum unit pricing has been associated with crime reduction. Models also show that, by reducing alcohol’s affordability, minimum unit pricing disproportionately benefits the health of the lowest socioeconomic groups. Yet recent interventions have instead made alcohol more affordable. Models estimate that “the UK Government’s decision in 2012/13 to abolish the alcohol duty escalator and its subsequent cuts and freezes in alcohol duty” led to “an additional 111,063 additional alcohol-related criminal offences in England” including violent crime, between 2012 and 2019.
Similarly, alcohol’s availability is associated with violence – for example, ‘lock-out’ laws introduced in New South Wales, which reduced the terminal hours of sales in city centre bars resulted in a 60% decrease in facial injuries arising from assaults within two years. As domestic violence particularly has been linked to off-sales premises, we could trial similar closing time restrictions for these.
Finally, without significant structural change, we can at best limit – but never eliminate – disparities in alcohol-related violent victimisation. For example, recent research that examined the impact of alcohol pricing interventions in Scotland shows that “the negative impacts of poverty and recent changes to the welfare system were more likely to affect the [children of parents or carers who drink at harmful levels]”. I believe that the alcohol policy and domestic violence service interventions I’ve outlined here should be implemented – but stopping short of meaningful action to reduce socioeconomic inequality (and the many other inequalities that cut across it), leaves the task unfinished.
Reducing alcohol-related violent victimisation has recently taken on special urgency. During the COVID-19 lockdown, reports of domestic violence have risen dramatically, our national alcohol consumption and drinking patterns have changed, and worsening inequality deepens associated harms. The sharp rise in home drinking is especially concerning, given the links between off-sales availability and domestic violence. Policymakers should therefore consider incorporating measures to alleviate alcohol-related violent victimisation into COVID-19 response plans, and should maintain those measures well into the future.
This was originally posted on the Institute of Alcohol Studies Blog here.
Note: This article gives the views of the authors, and not the position of the Social Policy Blog, nor of the London School of Economics.