A new report from the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) condemns the Public Health Responsibility Deal for Alcohol, suggesting it has “worsened the health of the nation”. Dead on Arrival? Evaluating the Public Health Responsibility Deal for Alcohol surveys the evidence on the Government’s flagship public health programme, which was launched in 2011 as a voluntary partnership with commercial organisations, public bodies, academics and NGOs to promote public health goals.

The Responsibility Deal brings these actors together to commit to a set of non-binding pledges to reduce health harms. The IAS report demonstrates the failings of this project, finding:

  • The Responsibility Deal is not endorsed by academics or the public health community
  • It has pursued initiatives known to have limited efficacy in reducing alcohol-related harm
  • The evidence on the effectiveness of the Responsibility Deal is limited and unreliable, due to ambiguous goals and poor reporting practices
  • Where evaluation has been possible, implementation has often failed to live up to the letter and/or spirit of the pledges
  • The Responsibility Deal appears to have obstructed more meaningful initiatives with a stronger evidence base behind them

The report collates and synthesises the findings of a number of recent independent academic evaluations[1][2], which have been critical of the Responsibility Deal. Though not the focus of Dead on Arrival?, similar criticisms have been made of the Responsibility Deal’s failure to effectively tackle obesity.[3]

The current status of the Responsibility Deal is uncertain: its Alcohol Network has not met in over a year, and the Government has not explicitly committed to its renewal since the election.

Katherine Brown, Director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies said:

“This report reveals the full extent of the failures of the responsibility deal to address alcohol harm. Perhaps more worryingly, it indicates the deal may have delayed evidence based actions that would save lives and cut crime, such as minimum pricing.

“To call this a ‘public health responsibility deal’ for alcohol is laughable as almost every independent public health body has boycotted it.

“With no support from the health community, and no evidence of effectiveness, it would be absurd for this government to continue with such a farcical initiative. It’s time the responsibility deal for alcohol was put to bed and the government revisited some of the real evidence-based policies promised in the 2012 alcohol strategy.

“With alcohol costing our society £21billion each year, we can’t afford to keep prioritizing the needs of big business over public health”.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance said:

“From the outset it was clear that the responsibility deal was never going to achieve meaningful health gains by reducing the burden of death and disease from alcohol. It is disappointing that five years have been wasted on a fruitless exercise when the government could have been making real progress by delivering on its commitments to introduce evidence based policies such as minimum unit pricing for alcohol.

“The UK is amongst the sick men of Europe when it comes to rates of alcohol related liver disease, which are far worse than many wealthy countries. The OECD has called on our government to act on this by introducing higher taxes and price interventions for alcohol. Now is the time to take this matter seriously and listen to the experts, not the drinks companies that stand to profit from our unhealthy relationship with alcohol.”


[1] https://www.ias.org.uk/What-we-do/Publication-archive/Alcohol-Alert/April-2015/Ineffective-and-flawed-Damning-reports-expose-shortcomings-of-voluntary-alcohol-pledges.aspx

[2] https://www.ias.org.uk/News/2015/16-October-2015-The-alcohol-industry-is-not-meeting-its-Responsibility-Deal-labeling-pledges.aspx

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/may/12/food-industry-responsibility-deal-little-effect-health-study