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Crime and social impacts

Crime and social impacts

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Alcohol-related crime and social disorder is estimated to cost UK taxpayers £11 billion per year, at 2010/11 prices.[1] Every year, alcohol is associated with 1 million crimes in the UK.[2]

Alcohol-related crime makes up a substantial portion of violent offences across the UK (39% in England and Wales in 2017/18,[3] 54% in Scotland in 2014/15,[4] and 40% in Northern Ireland in 2016/17).[5] This supports the public perception of alcohol as one of the major causes of crime in urban Britain today.

The Coalition Government listed a reduction in alcohol-fuelled violent crime among its core priorities in its 2012 Alcohol Strategy.[6] However, while the 2015 Conservative Government highlighted drugs and alcohol as one of the six key drivers of crime in its Modern Crime Prevention Strategy,[7] the 2017 Conservative Government have not focused on alcohol within their Serious Violence Strategy.[8]

Public concern about ‘alcohol-related crime’ is high across the UK. In the North West of England, 43% people had previously felt annoyed by people vomiting or urinating in the street after drinking, and 49.4% had been kept awake by drunken noise.[9] In Scotland in 2010/11, 96% found alcohol abuse to be a problem in Scotland today. In Northern Ireland, alcohol is the second most commonly identified major cause of crime, according to the 2016/17 NICS.[10]

Research has highlighted the role of alcohol in domestic violence, sexual assault,[11] child abuse,[12] and violent crime including murder.[13]

In 2015/16, Friday and Saturday nights (9pm–3am) accounted for the highest proportion of all weekend violent crime in England & Wales – 39% and 41% respectively. It has been suggested this is largely influenced by the increased consumption of alcohol between these times in the night time economy.[14]

Alcohol places a significant burden on the emergency services. An IAS survey found:

  • three-quarters of police and half of ambulance respondents have been injured in alcohol-related incidents[15]
  • between a third and a half of all servicepeople have suffered sexual harassment or abuse at the hands of intoxicated members of the public[16]
  • 78% of police, 65% of ambulance staff, and 35% of Emergency Department Consultants feel at risk of drunken assaults[17]

Problematic alcohol use has been identified as an issue at many stages of the criminal justice system.[18] Research has identified that the needs of prisoners with alcohol problems were less likely to be met than for those with illicit drug problems.[19]

A number of drivers of alcohol-related crime have been identified including:

  • Price (particularly promotions in the on-trade and cheap alcohol in the off-trade driving practices such as pre-loading)
  • The density and types of premises (such as high-risk, vertical drinking establishments)
  • Extended drinking hours

Policies aiming to address these drivers exist at both a national and local level in the UK. These range from licensing regulations to tough penalties for criminal behaviour linked to alcohol. Research indicates Minimum Unit Pricing also presents an effective policy option.[20]

You can click on each image below to read each factsheet, or the download button to have them all in a PDF (updated January 2019)


[1] www.parliament.uk (2013) 'Written evidence from the Department of Health (GAS 01), in 3rd report – Government's Alcohol Strategy, Health Committee'
<http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmhealth/132/132we02.htm>

[2] Alcohol Health Alliance (2017) 'Measuring up: The State of the Nation', p. 4 <http://12coez15v41j2cf7acjzaodh.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/7119-AHA-10-year-anniversary-report.pdf>

[3] Office for National Statistics (2019) 'The nature of violent crime in England and Wales: year ending March 2018'
<https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/articles/thenatureofviolentcrimeinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2018>

[4] The Scottish Government (2016) 'Scottish Crime and Justice Survey 2014/15: Main Findings' p. 49 <http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2016/03/5269>

[5] Police Service of Northern Ireland (2017) ' Police Recorded Crime in Northern Ireland: Monthly Update to 31 March 2017', p. 12
<https://www.psni.police.uk/globalassets/inside-the-psni/our-statistics/police-recorded-crime-statistics/2017/march/monthly-crime-bulletin-apr-mar-16_17.pdf>

[6] HM Government (2012) 'The Government’s Alcohol Strategy', pp. 8–9 <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/alcohol-strategy>

[7] HM Government (2016) 'Modern Crime Prevention Strategy', p. 4 <http://tinyurl.com/gunffzo>

[8] HM Government (2018) 'Serious Violence Strategy', p. 15 <https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/698009/serious-violence-strategy.pdf>

[9] Institute of Alcohol Studies (2015) 'Alcohol's harm to others', p. 15 <http://www.ias.org.uk/uploads/pdf/IAS%20reports/rp18072015.pdf>

[10] Department of Justice (2018) 'Perceptions of Crime: Findings from the 2016/17 Northern Ireland Crime Survey', p. 3
<https://www.justice-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/justice/perceptions-of%20-crime-findings-from2016-17-ni-crime-survey-3.pdf>

[11] Galvani, S. (2010) 'Supporting families affected by substance use and domestic violence', The Tilda Goldberg Centre for Social Work and Social Care, University of Bedfordshire, ADFAM. p. 5
<https://www.adfam.org.uk/files/docs/adfam_dvreport.pdf>

[12] Galvani, S. (2010) 'Grasping the Nettle: alcohol and domestic violence', p. 3 <https://www.injuryobservatory.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Cross-Tools-2011-Alcohol.pdf>

[13] Foran, H. and O’Leary, K. (2008) 'Alcohol and intimate partner violence: A meta-analytic review', Clinical psychology review, 28(7), p. 1,223. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18550239>

[14] Office for National Statistics (2016) Overview of violent crime and sexual offences, in ‘Focus on Violent Crime and Sexual Offences: Year ending March 2015’, p. 21 <http://tinyurl.com/zv5cm2t>

[15] Institute of Alcohol Studies (2015) 'Alcohol’s impact on emergency services' p. 4
<http://www.ias.org.uk/uploads/Alcohols_impact_on_emergency_services_full_report.pdf>

[16] Ibid. p. 4.

[17] Ibid. p. 4.

[18] Hansard (2016) 'Alcoholic Drinks: Misuse: Written question – 41699' <http://tinyurl.com/jswbj82>

[19] HM Inspectorate of Prisons (2010) 'Alcohol services in prisons: an unmet need' p. 37 <https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/inspections/alcohol-services-in-prison-an-unmet-need/>

[20] Angus, C., Holmes, J., Pryce, R., Meier, P. & Brennan, A. (2016) 'Alcohol and cancer trends: Intervention Studies', University of Sheffield and Cancer Research UK. p. 28
<https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/sites/default/files/alcohol_and_cancer_trends_report_cruk.pdf>




Selected related resources


The Institute of Alcohol Studies

Driving factors of alcohol-related crime

Published 2019

The Institute of Alcohol Studies

Domestic abuse sexual assault and child abuse

Published 2019

The Institute of Alcohol Studies

Crime and disorder in the night time economy

Published 2019

The Institute of Alcohol Studies

Alcohol, the emergency services and the criminal justice system

Published 2019

The Institute of Alcohol Studies

Alcohol-related crime reporting – what do we know?

Published 2019