Alcohol price warning over violence
Cheap alcohol in supermarkets is fuelling violence, and making booze more affordable now the economic downturn is over would be a mistake, experts have warned.
Releasing figures that show the number of people injured in serious violence dropped by 10% in 2014 compared to 2013, researchers said that more than 200,000 people going to emergency departments in England and Wales every year because of it is "still far too many".
As in other years, the bulk of the violence still being committed involves males between the ages of 18 and 30, mainly taking place in urban streets at night.
Researchers attributed the reduction to a combination of factors including an increase in CCTV leading to police intervening in fights more quickly; better sharing of anonomised data between A&E departments; police and local government; and people drinking less due to alcohol being more expensive and having less disposable income.
Lead author of the study and director of the Violence Research Group at Cardiff University, Professor Jonathan Shepherd, said a recent study of where people got their last drink before attending an alcohol treatment centre in Cardiff found that "strikingly", 70 people went there from their home within five months without going in a pub at all.
"I think what that highlights is that alcohol in the supermarkets is still far too cheap and we know that cheap alcohol increases consumption and then the harm that develops reflects consumption levels," he added.
Prof Shepherd said situational factors such as better street lighting and the use of plastic glasses in pubs also contributed to the reduction in violence - while he suggested people are increasingly possessing more self control.
"I think we are becoming a more empathetic society with a better connectivity with social media, etc," he added.
He said the reduction in violence involving males aged 18 to 30 represented the "greatest savings for society - for A&E departments who are hard pressed at the weekends".
"This is where we get the biggest benefit really, in terms of numbers," he added.
The study found an estimated 211,514 people attended Emergency Departments (EDs), Minor Injury Units (MIUs) and walk-in centres in England and Wales for treatment following violence in 2014 - 22,995 fewer than in 2013.
Recorded acts of violence against children showed an even greater fall of 18%.
Prof Shepherd said the figures related to children being hurt in the street or at school rather than as a result of domestic violence, which would be unlikely to see them attend A&E - although he suggested improved child safeguarding policies in the wake of the Baby P tragedy could have had some effect.
He also said better safeguarding and surveillance in schools and improved anti-bullying measures have made a difference, along with children being taken to school in cars more as it means they are spending less time out on the street.
"These substantial year-on-year decreases in serious violence are welcome news for citizens and communities across England and Wales," he said.
"Moreover, costs imposed on health services and the criminal justice system by violence have been substantially reduced along with burdens on stretched emergency departments.
"And yet it isn't all good news; our findings suggest that the issue of alcohol-related violence endures, with violence-related emergency department attendance consistently at its highest levels on weekends.
"As we emerge from the economic downturn we must ensure that the affordability of alcohol does not increase. Over 200,000 people across England and Wales going to emergency departments with injuries caused by violence are still far too many."
The data was gathered from a scientific sample of 117 EDs, MIUs and walk-in centres in England and Wales, all certified members of the National Violence Surveillance Network (NVSN), which has published an annual report for the past 15 years.
Apart from a 7% increase in 2008, there have been decreases in every year since 2001.
An NSPCC spokesman said: "The fall in children attending A&E due to violence-related injuries is encouraging and in line with a longer term decline in violence towards children causing injury or death.
"These improvements are most welcome and in stark contrast to other forms of abuse - such as neglect or emotional abuse - which do not appear to have declined in recent years.
"With research showing one in 20 children suffering sexual abuse and one in 14 children being physically abused, there's still a long way to go to ensure that children are protected from harm."