Policy discussion of the contribution of alcohol to incidents of violence has, in recent decades, broadly focused on night-time economy spaces (see work from Hadfield at al. for a related discussion). Sites like pubs, bars, and nightclubs have been central to such discussion – not only as sites where this violence might occur, but also as sites which sell alcohol. However, others have noted that this approach has overlooked violence which takes place in other sites, including the home, as well as the ways alcohol sold in other sites, such as supermarkets and shops, might contribute to this (see Wilson et al. for a discussion).
It can be methodologically difficult to connect shops and supermarkets to any incidents of violence which their sales might contribute to. Whereas alcohol purchased from a pub or bar will be consumed on site (and may contribute to an incident of violence in the same location, or neighbourhood), alcohol purchased in off-trade sites is consumed elsewhere. It may be taken home, to a friend’s house, or another social occasion. If this sale is to contribute to an instance of violence, it may be one which takes place far from the original purchase site. This makes it more difficult to examine off-trade sites using approaches which attempt to link sale sites and recorded violence in space. (These ideas are explored by Holmes et al. and Horsefield et al.)
However, the restrictions introduced surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic presented an opportunity to explore these sale sites in a different way. Essentially, at times when bars, clubs, and pubs closed under ‘lockdowns’ and other restrictions, the alcohol market was changed significantly. Put simply, at times during the pandemic, all of the alcohol sold in England came from off-trade sites.
Our study exploited this. Using police-recorded data, we investigated how this impacted alcohol-related violence and alcohol-related domestic violence.
The findings provided valuable insight into the contribution of off-trade sales to violence. The period in which the on-trade was closed represented a significant decrease in the overall availability of alcohol in England, and based on findings from prior literature (e.g., Alcohol Focus Scotland and Centre for Research on Environment, Society, and Health at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow), the work identified an expected decrease in the level of violence flagged as ‘alcohol-related’ by police forces. However, only a small decrease (from 15.5% to 12.8%) was seen in the proportion of all violence which police flagged in this way. At the same time, these closures did not lead to significant differences in the level or proportion of domestic violence flagged as alcohol-related.
This suggests that the impact of alcohol sold in off-trade sites – not only on-trade – ought to be considered as a component of efforts to reduce violence. While the pandemic period cannot be considered to represent what we might call ‘everyday life’, this research has shed valuable light onto how the off-trade impacts violence.
Written by Dr Carly Lightowlers, University of Liverpool, and Dr Lucy Bryant, Open University and Institute of Alcohol Studies.
All IAS Blogposts are published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Institute of Alcohol Studies.