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Policies to reduce crime and social disorder

A number of policies aiming to reduce alcohol-related crime and social disorder exist at both a national and local level in the UK. These range from licensing regulations to tough custodial penalties for criminal behaviour linked to alcohol.


Evidence from both natural experiments and modelling studies support a link between alcohol pricing and overall crime, where increases in tax/price were associated with reductions in overall crime and decreases in tax/price were associated with an increase in overall crime.[1] One study examining the influence of the price of beer on injuries suffered in England and Wales suggested that increased alcohol prices would result in substantially fewer violent injuries.[2] Similar findings have been identified in Canada, where a 10% increase in provincial minimum alcohol prices was associated with a 9.17% reduction in crimes against persons.[3]

The Home Office also acknowledged the relationship between price and harm in its review of the research literature:

When considering individual crime types rather than overall crime, there is a larger evidence base for a link between alcohol price and violence than for other crime types. The balance of this evidence tends to support an association between increasing alcohol price and decreasing levels of violence.[4]

Research released in 2016 from Cardiff University estimates* that a 1% increase in on- and off-trade prices above inflation in England and Wales could avoid more than 6,000 violence-related emergency department attendances every year.[5]

In the face of such evidence, minimum unit pricing (MUP) presents itself as one such policy tool designed among other things to reduce the level of crime and social disorder. Modelling estimates produced by the University of Sheffield indicates that the proposed level of 45 pence per unit would see a reduction of 28,900 crimes a year in England & Wales. This is broken down as follows:



Potential impact?

A minimum unit price of 45 pence per unit in England and Wales, and 50 pence per unit in Scotland would be predicated to:

  • Save roughly £31 million in costs to the criminal justice system in the first year, rising to nearly £260m over a 10-year period.[6]
  • Show a predicted fall of 3,500 crimes committed throughout the population in Scotland, saving the Scottish criminal justice system £9m in costs in the first year, rising to £24m over a 10-year period.[7]

Implementation in Scotland

In response to such evidence, Scotland has attempted to implement MUP, passing the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act in June 2012. However, due to a legal challenge led by the Scotch Whisky Association, this has yet to be implemented. Recent research has shown that were the Act to be implemented, after twenty years when it has achieved its full effect, it would account for an estimated 121 fewer deaths and 2,042 fewer hospital admissions each year.[8] After hearings in the Court of Session and the Court of Justice, the case returned to the domestic court (Court of Session) where the proposal was ruled not to be in violation of EU law.[9] As the judgement read:

The Advocate General was convinced (para 135) that the measure: “meets the objective of combating alcohol abuse in a consistent and systematic manner by maintaining, in particular, that the measure forms part of a more general strategy of combating the harm caused by alcohol, including other measures such as the prohibition of specific promotional offers, and that the targeting of cheap alcoholic beverages maybe justified by the fact that hazardous and harmful drinkers, including, in particular, the young, whose protection as a matter of priority is a legitimate concern, to a large extent consume that category of drinks.”[10]

Alternative approach in England and Wales

From 2014, there has been a ban in England and Wales on businesses selling alcohol below the cost of duty plus VAT.[11] However, whilst this may appear a positive step, it has been demonstrated that this strategy would have little substantive impact, and that MUP approaches would be more effective in reducing excessive consumption[12], [13] (please consult the Price factsheet for more information).

Density of premises

There is also evidence that indicates a correlation between the density of outlets licensed to sell alcoholic beverages and the occurrence of alcohol-related crime and social disorder. This can be explained by the combination of licensed outlets clustered in close proximity to one another – especially in town centres – with the high crowd density that occurs at night time, which can lead to acts of aggression fuelled by the intoxication of alcohol.

The evidence

US based research on the relationship between alcohol and violence in the local vicinity found that:[14]

  • In a study of Camden, New Jersey, neighbourhoods with higher alcohol outlet density had more violent crime (including homicide, rape, assault, and robbery). This association was strong even when other neighbourhood characteristics such as poverty and age of residents were taken into account
  • In a study of 74 cities in Los Angeles County, California, a higher density of alcohol outlets was associated with more violence, even when levels of unemployment, age, ethnic and racial characteristics and other community characteristics were taken into account
  • In a 6-year study of changes in numbers of alcohol outlets in 551 urban and rural zip code areas in California, an increase in the number of bars and off-premise places (e.g., liquor, convenience and grocery stores) was related to an increase in the rate of violence.

From this, one report drew the following conclusions:[15]

  • In neighborhoods [sic] where there are many outlets that sell high-alcohol beer and spirits, more violent assaults occur
  • Large taverns and nightclubs and similar establishments that are primarily devoted to drinking have higher rates of assaults among customers

A recent study on female alcohol consumption in and around licensed premises also found that a significant relationship between both factors, with acts of aggression most commonly motivated by an emotional reaction or to address a grievance.[16]

Implications for the UK?

In the UK, there has been a rapid increase in the capacity of licensed premises in city centres nationwide. In Manchester, for example, the number of people who could fit into all the city centre's pubs and clubs rose by 240% between 1997 and 2001.[17]

Central Cardiff has more licensing capacity per square metre any other city centre in the UK. Their night time economy is estimated to be worth £413m a year, employing over 11,000 people.[18] But the city has also become a case study for explaining the rise in alcohol-related crime and social disorder on Britain's streets.

England & Wales has been shown to have higher levels of alcohol outlets density than Scotland, the USA, and Australia,[19] and it has been suggested there would need to be a reduction of as much as 10% in density to see an impact on alcohol related harms.[20] It is however, important to note that while density of premises in the UK has increased, overall rates of alcohol related crimes have reduced, which points towards the complex interplay of different factors which influence both consumption and crime.


The introduction of Cumulative Impact Policies (CIP) was intended to reduce the level of crime and social disorder occurring in the night time economy. They were designed to prevent the proliferation of licensed premises concentrating in a designated area by making it harder to obtain an alcohol licence in areas where there are high levels of alcohol related problems. There has been mixed evidence on the impact CIPs have had since their introduction. They do not reduce, but rather slow down, the growth of the night time economy. For example, it has been shown that 86% of new or variation applications in CIP areas have still been granted, which may suggest a limited impact.[21] However, some areas, such as Newcastle, have seen use of CIPs inhibit growth of the off-trade,[22] where they are recognised as a useful ‘place shaping’ tool, enabling local authorities to encourage best practice, and to positively influence the development of the licenced trade in ways less likely to have a negative local impact. The Government have pledged to put CIPs on a statutory footing in their Modern Crime Prevention Strategy.[23] It should be noted, that the use of policies such as CIPs are limited by competition law.[24]

In addition to this, the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 gave local agencies a set of powers which would enable them to counter the most damaging effects of the 2003 Licensing Act, most notably flexible opening hours for licensed premises. For instance, by strengthening local authority control over opening and closing hours – as signalled by the creation of the Late Night Levy and Early Morning Restriction Orders (EMRO) – the new law allows them to target specific trouble zones in the night time economy in an attempt to stop crime and social disorder occurring into the early hours of the morning.[25] However, initial assessment of Late Night Levies has shown mixed results in their capacity to raise expected funds, and there is yet to be a formal evaluation into their impact. In their Modern Crime Prevention Strategy, the Government have pledged to improve the scheme, promising to make it “more flexible for local areas, fairer to business and more transparent” (more on licensing solutions can be found in the Licensing factsheet).[26], [27]

Place of sale

The role of atmosphere

Evidence suggests that the aesthetic environment of drinking establishments can have an influence on the prevalence of alcohol-related violence and social disorder. Research has identified specific factors that can cause violent incidents to occur in pubs, clubs and bars. These include:[28]

  • low comfort levels (due, for instance, to limited seating availability or crowding caused by intersecting traffic flows resulting from inappropriate locations of entries, exits, bar serving areas, dance floors and toilets)
  • poorly trained staff
  • permissiveness towards deviant behaviours
  • poor access to late night transport

In addition to this, factors such as prominence of alcohol promotion, aggressive content in music, and a “rowdy atmosphere” have also been identified as linked to alcohol-related aggression.[29]

How can this be mediated?

In Canada, the Safer Bars training programme has shown success in reducing aggression by developing staff skills in managing and reducing aggressive behaviour. A randomised trial showed that the programme reduced severe and moderate aggression in intervention premises; these effects were moderated by the turnover of managers and door staff in bars, with higher staff turnover associated with higher aggression post-intervention.[30]

In the UK, the Home Office has produced a summary of the various strategies available to owners/managers of licensed premises to help reduce violence in and around their businesses, including a set of interventions on the layout and management of bars and clubs as alcohol vendor venues in the night time economy.



The licensed trade often champion voluntary schemes as effective at reducing crime and disorder. While these can be effective in some instances, they are poorly evidenced and appear to be better at encouraging best practice and information sharing as opposed to significantly impacting on crime and disorder.[31]


Some policies relate specifically to alcohol-related crime and social disorder on public transport. For example, in London, an alcohol ban was introduced on all Transport for London (TfL) services from 1 June 2008 by Mayor Boris Johnson, under the claim that it would reduce crime in the capital.[32]

The ban has so far proved popular with commuters; research carried out by the Greater London Authority found that 87% of Londoners were in support. It is also said to have had a significant influence on the 15% fall in the number of assaults on Tube staff between 2008 and 2011.[33]

In 2016, TfL introduced a 24-hour service on some tube lines. With the introduction of this service, TfL themselves have projected an increase in alcohol-related incidents at end of line stations.[34]

Anonymous data sharing: The Cardiff Model

Research has shown that the dissemination of information via the emergency services is key when dealing with social problems, crime and violent assault. The College of Emergency Medicine has produced guidance, which is based on the ‘Cardiff model for Violence Prevention’, that sets out the importance of sharing non-personal data with the police, particularly core information on the date, location and type of assault.

Findings from a study conducted by the University of Cardiff highlight the important role of senior clinical, police and local authority leadership in promoting active use of the intelligence to target policing and tackle problem premises.[35] Data sharing and local advocacy on the part of trauma surgeons has prompted the formation of local police task forces responsible for targeting city street crime, and overt and covert police interventions, targeted at violence hotspots such as particular licensed premises, and the use of injury data to oppose drinks/entertainment license applications by the alcohol industry.[36]

Implementation of these measures in Cardiff has been followed by:

  • an overall decrease of 35% in numbers of assault patients seeking Emergency Department (ED) treatment (2000-5), compared with an overall 18% decrease in England and Wales over the same period
  • a 31% decrease in assaults inside licensed premises in Cardiff city centre (1999–2001)
  • lower levels of violence than all [but 4 of the] 55 towns and cities in England and Wales with a population greater than 100,000 (by 2005)

In its Home Office 'family' of 15 similar cities (based on socio-economic and demographic variables) the Welsh capital was safest of the group for 3 years (2003–6). On the basis of such evidence, the Coalition Government intends to encourage all hospitals to share non-confidential information on alcohol-related injuries with the police, by granting licensing and local health bodies the status of 'responsible authorities' under the Licensing Act 2003.[37]

In line with this, the Government have highlighted the role of information sharing in tackling alcohol-related crime in their Modern Crime Prevention Strategy. They emphasise the need to improve local intelligence, in order to make evidence based decisions about “the sale of alcohol and the management of the evening and night time economy”, and that they “expect more local NHS trusts to share information about alcohol-related violence to support licensing decisions taken by local authorities and the police, adopting the success of the Cardiff Model”.[38]

Streamlining: an updated alcohol policy?

Shortly after the release of the Alcohol Strategy, the Home Office presented to Parliament a document titled 'Putting victims first: more effective responses to antisocial behaviour', a white paper setting out plans to replace 19 existing powers to tackle antisocial behaviour with 6 new ones.[39]



This streamlining of the categorisation of orders available to courts when sentencing offenders has since been enacted in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.[40] The powers which tackle alcohol-related crime are the Criminal Behaviour Order and the Public Space Protection Order.

  1. Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs – previously DPPOs)

In England, provisions for dealing with alcohol-related crime disorder were created in the Police & Criminal Justice Act 2001.[41] These permitted the introduction of Designated Public Place Orders (DPPOs) at a local authority level. These have now been replaced by PSPOs under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. PSPOs ban specific acts in a designated geographical area, such as the consumption of alcohol. All current DPPOs will expire on 20th October 2017, unless renewed and converted to a PSPO.[42]

  1. Criminal Behaviour Order (CBO) / Drink Banning Order (DBO)

CBOs can be assigned by criminal courts on conviction for any criminal offence, and are designed to tackle serious antisocial behaviour, including that relating to alcohol such as persistently being drunk and aggressive in public.[43]

DBOs came into force in August 2009, and were replaced by CBOs in 2014. They can last for any specified period of time between 2 months and 2 years. Offenders who breach a DBO are liable to pay a penalty of up to £2,500.[44]

After 20th October 2019, any existing DBOs will be considered CBOs.[45]

Other initiatives

Alcohol Treatment Requirement (ATR): imposed either as part of a community sentence of up to 3 years, or attached to a suspended sentence order of up to 2 years, to offenders who present serious problems with alcohol and where it is identified as a significant factor in the person's offending. Once an ATR order is issued by the courts, the individual must agree to a treatment plan with probation and the treatment provider. S/he will have access to a tailored treatment programme with the aim of reducing or eliminating alcohol dependency. This requires a high level of intervention, including prescribed treatment including detoxification, 1-to-1 contact or interventions, care planned counselling and assistance to obtain Residential Rehab subject to Community Care funding and general waiting lists. Breaching an ATR will result in a return to court for more onerous conditions to be applied, or a substituted prison term. The completion rate for ATRs has remained relatively stable between 2009/10 and 2013/14 at around 70%.[46]

Alcohol Arrest Referral (AAR): In England, a trial of Alcohol Arrest Referral (AAR) began in 2007. These were piloted in 4 constabularies, before being phased in across 8 others the following year. AAR involves offering a brief intervention to individuals arrested and deemed by a police officer to be under the influence of alcohol and typically involves a brief intervention session with an AAR worker, with a view to 'follow-up' sessions in some cases. A Home Office evaluation report on the AAR scheme, published shortly before the 2012 Alcohol Strategy, concluded that there was no strong evidence to suggest that AAR had a criminal justice impact in terms of reducing re-arrest, although there was some limited evidence of reduced alcohol consumption among the intervention groups.[47]

Sobriety tagging: This scheme aims to reduce alcohol-related crime by fitting binge drinkers who commit a defined set of alcohol-related crimes with monitors that assess their sobriety. Following a successful trial in London (with a 92% compliance rate)[48] the scheme will be rolled out nationwide.[49] Treatment and advice is also available to participants; a factor charity Alcohol Concern has emphasised as key.[50]

The Alcohol Fundproject: This £1 million project identified 10 key areas to support to address alcohol-related problems. A variety of strategies across the areas where employed, and some regions saw reduction in alcohol-related crime.[51] It will be important to see the sustainability of these outcomes longer term.


* FOOTNOTE: The authors of this study suggest that taxation may be a more effective strategy than minimum unit pricing (MUP) for reducing such violence-related injury. However, they do not provide evidence to support this, and this study did not model the potential impact of MUP - taxation’s effectiveness was proposed by the authors. This study focused on the on-trade which may account for this suggestion, as off-trade prices would be affected more by MUP, whereas on-trade prices are more likely to impacted by rises in taxation

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[1] Booth A., et al (2010), 'Alcohol pricing and criminal harm: a rapid evidence assessment of the published research literature', ScHARR, University of Sheffield, p. 14


[2] Matthew K., Shepherd J., and Sivarajasingham V (2006)., 'Violence-related injury and the price of beer in England and Wales', Applied Economics, 38: 6, pp. 661–670

[3] Stockwell T., Zhao J., Marzell M., Gruenewald P., Macdonald S., Ponicki W., Martin G, (June 2015)., ‘Relationships Between Minimum Alcohol Pricing and Crime During the Partial Privatization of a Canadian Government Alcohol Monopoly’, Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 76 (4), 628–634 (2015) <>

[4] Secretary of State for the Home Department (January 2011), 'The likely impacts of increasing alcohol price: a summary review of the evidence base', HM Government, p. 4

[5] Page N., Sivarajasingam V., Matthews K., Heravi S., Morgan P., Shepherd J (July 2016)., ‘Preventing violence-related injuries in England and Wales: a panel study examining the impact of on-trade and off-trade alcohol prices.’ Injury Prevention

[6] Brennan A., et al (2009), ‘Modelling the Potential Impact of Pricing and Promotion Policies for Alcohol in England: Results from the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model Version 2008 (1-1)’, Independent review of the effect of Alcohol Pricing and Promotion: Part B, ScHARR, University of Sheffield, Sheffield Alcohol Research Group, Table 33, p. 133 <>

[7] Meng Y., et al (January 2012), 'Model-based appraisal of alcohol minimum pricing and off-licensed trade discount bans in Scotland using the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model (v.2): Second update based on newly available data', ScHARR, University of Sheffield, Sheffield Alcohol Research Group, pp. 60–62 <>

[8] Angus C., Holmes J., Pryce R., Meier P., Brennan A (April 2016)., ‘Model-based appraisal of the comparative impact of Minimum Unit Pricing and taxation policies in Scotland: An adaptation of the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model version 3’, ScHARR: University of Sheffield <!/file/Scotland_report_2016.pdf>

[9] The Guardian (October 2016), ‘Scottish court rejects appeal against minimum alcohol pricing’ <>


[11] Secretary of State for the Home Department, ‘Banning the sale of alcohol below the cost of duty plus VAT’, Government response to the alcohol consultation, p. 3

[12] Leicester A (November 2011)., 'Alcohol pricing and taxation policies', Institute for Fiscal Studies, p.3

[13], ‘The Government’s Alcohol Strategy’, Secretary of State for the Home Department, p. 7

[14] Stewart K (February 2005)., ‘How Alcohol Outlets Affect Neighborhood Violence’, Prevention Research Center, Pacific Institute for Research Evaluation, pp. 2–3 <>

[15] Stewart K., 'How Alcohol Outlets Affect Neighborhood Violence', p. 3

[16] Newberry M., et al (2013), ‘Female alcohol consumption, motivations for aggression and aggressive incidents in licensed premises’, Addictive Behaviors, 38: 3, pp. 1844–1851, Abstract

[17] Hobbs D., et al (2003), 'Bouncers: Violence and governance in the night time economy', Clarendon studies in criminology, Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK

[18] Alcohol Concern (June 2012), 'Full to the brim? Outlet density and alcohol-related harm', p. 3 <>

[19] The Institute of Alcohol Studies / FARE, ‘Anytime, anyplace, anywhere? Policy approaches and shared learnings to address the physical availability of alcohol in Australia and the UK’

[20] Foster J., and Charalambides L (March 2016)., ‘The Licensing Act (2003): its uses and abuses 10 years on’, The Institute of Alcohol Studies

[21] Home Office (2015) ‘Alcohol and late night refreshment in England and Wales 31 March 2014’, data tables, Table 7b <>

[22] The Institute of Alcohol Studies / FARE, ‘Anytime, anyplace, anywhere?’

[23] Secretary of State for the Home Department (March 2016), ‘Modern Crime Prevention Strategy’, HM Government, p. 36 <>

[24] The Institute of Alcohol Studies / FARE, ‘Anytime, anyplace, anywhere?’

[25] The Institute of Alcohol Studies / FARE

[26] Secretary of State for the Home Department (March 2016), ‘Modern Crime Prevention Strategy’, p. 36

[27] Home Office, 'Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011' <>

[28] Graham K., and Homel R (September 2008)., ‘Raising the bar: preventing aggression in an around bars, clubs and pubs’, UK: Willan Publishing, in World Health Organization (2009), Preventing violence by reducing the availability and harmful use of alcohol, ‘Violence prevention: the evidence’, p. 11 <>

[29] McFadden A J., Young M., Markham F (August 2015)., ‘Venue-Level Predictors of Alcohol-Related Violence: An Exploratory Study in Melbourne, Australia’ International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp. 506–519 <>

[30] Graham K, et al (March 2004)., ‘The effect of the Safer Bars programme on physical aggression in bars: results of a randomized controlled trial’, Drug and Alcohol Review, 23: 1, pp. 31–41, in World Health Organization, ‘Violence prevention: the evidence’, p. 12

[31] Foster J (March 2016)., ‘The Licensing Act (2003): its uses and abuses 10 years on’ <>

[32] BBC News (May 2008), 'Johnson bans drink on transport' <>

[33] (May 2011), 'Londoners continue to back Mayor's booze ban' <>

[34] The Huffington Post (March 2016), ‘Night Tube: The 12 Underground Stations Where Crime May Increase Revealed By London Assembly’ <>

[35] Secretary of State for the Home Department, ‘... Alcohol Strategy’, p. 15

[36] Shepherd J (April 2007)., ‘Preventing violence – caring for victims’, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, Surgeon, 5: 2, pp. 114–121, p. 116

[37] Secretary of State for the Home Department, ‘The Government’s Alcohol Strategy’, pp. 11–14

[38] Secretary of State for the Home Department (March 2016), ‘Modern Crime Prevention Strategy’, HM Government, p. 34

[39] Secretary of State for the Home Department, ‘Putting victims first: more effective responses to antisocial behaviour’, HM Government, p. 7


[40] Secretary of State for the Home Department (March 2014), ‘Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, Chapter 12’, HM Government, House of Commons <>

[41] Secretary of State for the Home Department (May 2001), 'Chapter 2: Provisions for combatting alcohol-related disorder', Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 c. 16, HM Government, House of Commons, pp. 6–25 <>

[42] Wiltshire Council (February 2016), ‘Trowbridge PSPO’ <>

[43] Sentencing Council, ‘5. Criminal behaviour orders’. Accessed October 2016 <>

[44] Alcohol Policy UK (September 2009), 'Drinking banning orders come into force' <>

[45] The Crown Prosecution Service, ‘Criminal Behaviour Orders’. Accessed October 2016 <>

[46] Ministry of Justice (July 2015), ‘National Offender Management Service Annual Report 2014/15: Management Information Addendum’, p. 21 <>

[47] Home Office (March 2012), ‘Summary of findings from two evaluations of Home Office Alcohol Arrest Referral pilot schemes’


[48] (February 2016), ‘'Sobriety tags' rolled out across London’


[49] Secretary of State for the Home Department (March 2016), ‘Modern Crime Prevention Strategy’, p. 36

[50] Alcohol Policy UK (August 2015), ‘Alcohol offender 'sobriety tag' scheme could go national’ <>

[51] Department for Communities and Local Government (February 2015), ‘The Alcohol Fund End of project’ <>