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Figures from the UK Office for National Statistics (2021a) suggest that alcohol-related violence in England and Wales has been declining – both as a total figure (1,001,000 in 2009/10 to 525,000 in 2019/20) and as a proportion of all violent incidents (54% in 2009/10 to 42% in 2019/20).
This decline remains unexplained and generally unexamined – however, there are existing bodies of research that might offer insight into this trend.
This report examines possible explanations for the decline seen in alcohol-related violence – drawing on existing literature exploring: changing patterns in violence (e.g., Farrell et al. 2014), alcohol’s relationship with violence (e.g., Graham & Livingston 2011), and the measurement of violence (e.g., Reiner 2016).
Changing patterns in youth drinking might contribute to this violence decline. It is younger, rather than older age groups, who predominantly engage in violence in night-time economy settings (Finney 2004). Youth drinking in England has seen a recent downturn (e.g., Oldham et al. 2018), corresponding to some degree with declines in alcohol-related violence.
A steeper decline in alcohol-related violence relative to violence overall appears to be accounted for by shifts in alcohol-related stranger and acquaintance violence. Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) data show that the proportion of stranger and acquaintance violence incidents that were alcohol-related fell between 2009/10 and 2019/20, whilst the proportion of domestic violence incidents which were alcohol-related generally remained stable.
It is possible data artefacts such as counting errors contained in national statistics form some part of the trend investigated here. While the CSEW is a widely respected data source (Tilley & Tseloni 2016), limitations in its capturing of violent incidents have been previously identified (e.g., Walby et al. 2016). It is important to consider the impact any such data artefact might have on alcohol-related violence trends – investigation of the production of these National Statistics should be undertaken to assess this.
By subjecting the explanations presented here to thorough investigation, future
researchers might unpack this decline in violence further, and provide valuable data
to policymakers working to address alcohol harm and reduce violence levels.
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