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Fall in binge drinking credited for drop in violence

Rising alcohol prices and a decline in binge drinking have been credited for a significant drop in serious violence throughout England and Wales, according to a recent study.

The number of people injured in serious assaults across England and Wales dropped by 12% last year with 32,780 fewer people seeking A&E treatment in 2013 than in 2012, according to the national violence surveillance network developed by Cardiff University and reported by The Guardian.

In fact, figures showed the levels of serious violence had dropped every year since 2001, bar a 7% rise in 2008, with a drop in binge drinking and the rising cost of alcohol credited as the cause.

It comes following figures revealing alcohol consumption in the UK is at its lowest level in 23 years while it seems fewer young people than ever are drinking alcohol.

In a 2011 NHS survey just 11% of 11 to 15 year olds said they had drunk alcohol the week previous, down from 26% a decade earlier, while 48% of 16 to 26-year-olds said they had had an alcoholic drink in the previous week in 2010, compared with 71% in 1998.

Professor Jonathan Shepherd, director of the university’s violence and society research group and scientific advisor to the Home Office, said: “Binge drinking has become less frequent, and the proportion of youth who don’t drink alcohol at all has risen sharply. Also, after decades in which alcohol has become more affordable, since 2008 it has become less affordable. For people most prone to involvement in violence – those aged 18 to 30 – falls in disposable income are probably an important factor.”

The results of the study are based on statistics returned from 117 emergency departments, minor injury units and walk-in centres in England and Wales and revealed the age group most at risk from violence was men aged 18 to 30 on a Saturday and Sunday.

Shepherd said that while binge drinking may be in decline, the rising cost of alcohol had also contributed to a fall in serious violence.

He said: “In addition, since 2008 affordability of alcohol has decreased, the real price of alcohol in both the on-trade and the off-trade has increased and UK alcohol consumption levels have decreased from 10.8 litres per capita in 2008 to 10 litres per capita in 2011. These factors may partly explain the falls in serious violence in England and Wales.”

Responding to today’s report from Cardiff University, Henry Ashworth, chief executive of the Portman Group, said: “We welcome the sustained fall in alcohol related violence over more than a decade. Hard work by local partnerships between local authorities, police, drinks businesses and community groups is proving most effective at both growing night time economies and reducing harms. For those local communities that still suffer disproportionately from anti-social behaviour we would urge them to embrace this partnership working”

Cardiff University’s latest findings are likely to fuel debate over the need for minimum unit price for alcohol which has divided opinion within the industry.

This month the Home Office introduced a ban on deeply discounted “below cost” sales of alcohol, however a plan to introduce a minimum unit price was shelved last year following opposition from the drinks industry.

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