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Peace dividend from declining alcohol consumption

Falling alcohol consumption has been credited with being partly responsible for an overall decline in violent crime in the UK. A new report from the Institute of Economics and Peace calculates the UK ‘peace index’ and finds that the UK has become significantly more peaceful since 2003. The report examines rates of violent crime down to local authority level, and, of 343 local authorities assessed in the Index, 278 are more peaceful now than they were in 2003. 


The report finds that both crime, including violent crime, and homicide have fallen significantly. The fall over the last decade has resulted in the UK homicide rate now being at its lowest level since 1978. However, the UK violent crime rate is significantly higher than the European Union average. 

The fall in violent crime has continued despite the global financial crisis, and during the on-going recession. In the UK, the only major offence category to increase substantially  over the ten-year period was drug offences. All other categories of crime, including burglary and fraud, have fallen.

Geographically, the most peaceful region in the UK is South East England. The least peaceful region is Greater London, immediately preceded by Scotland and Northern Ireland. The least peaceful major urban centre in the UK is Glasgow, preceded by London and then Belfast. When measured at the Local Authority level the most peaceful areas are Broadland, Three Rivers, and South Cambridgeshire. The least peaceful are the London boroughs of Lewisham, Lambeth, and Hackney. 


On alcohol, the report says that the proposed introduction of a minimum price on alcohol has brought a lot of attention to the issue of alcohol-fuelled violence. There is a well-established link between excessive drinking and violence, in both public and private domains.  Even though alcohol affordability has not changed much over the past decade, the average level of drinking has changed, particularly the level of drinking outside the home, which has fallen considerably. Given this decline, it would be expected that alcohol-related violence would also have dropped over this period. Data on alcohol-related crime are available from 2007 onwards, and these data confirm that alcohol-fuelled crime has been on the decrease across all regions in England. 


Similar data from Scotland have shown that the percentage of murder suspects who acted under the influence of alcohol has been decreasing over the last decade. Finally, hospital admissions related to alcohol have increased substantially over the last decade. Admissions for alcohol related poisoning have doubled; however, the number of admissions for alcohol-related assault has been falling since 2007, as seen in the chart. 

Apart from the decline in alcohol consumption, the report attributes the fall in alcohol-related violence to a number of factors, including the increased scrutiny in the media, which has led to an increased police presence in inner cities on weekends, less drinking in public places, more strict enforcement of drink driving laws, in combination with the implementation of other strategies aimed at reducing binge drinking. 

In general, the trend in alcohol-related violence mirrors the broader UK violence trend. Other factors cited to explain the trend, in addition to falling alcohol consumption, include changes in police practices and technological improvements, an aging population, and, perhaps rather less plausibly, rising real wages due to the introduction of the minimum wage. 

The UK Peace Index can be downloaded at: