The price of alcohol may explain a decline in violent crime

This striking development is not confined to the UK

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The Independent Online

The news that violent crime is falling year by year is welcome not just for what it means for the health of our society but also for more prosaic reasons. Violent crime creates victims beyond those immediately affected. The rest of us have to pay for it through our taxes so that the NHS can care for victims.

The data – from Accident and Emergency departments, collated by Cardiff University – shows that 235,000 patients were treated for the effects of violent crime in 2013 – 32,800 fewer than in the previous year. It is the fifth consecutive year that the figures have fallen.

This striking development is not confined to the UK, and the wider causes are not known for certain, but the academics who analysed the data have a plausible theory. There are statistics that track what the specialists call the “affordability of alcohol”, which compares alcohol prices with the Retail Price Index and with the size of people’s disposable incomes. Every year to 2007, alcohol became more affordable. But in 2008, that ceased. It is certainly a possibility, as Professor Jonathan Shepherd, lead author of the report, suggests, that our streets are safer because it costs young people more – relative to their income – to go out and get drunk.

It is regrettable, therefore, that a year ago David Cameron – after being heavily lobbied by the drinks industry – changed his mind and dropped a proposal to bring in a minimum price for alcohol. This month, a Home Office ban on heavily discounted sales came into effect, but it applies to only about one per cent of all alcohol sales.

Just as we cannot know for certain why violent crime is falling, we cannot say for certain what effect minimum alcohol prices would have until they have been tried. But there are good reasons to think that a minimum price would help bring the number of violent incidents down even further.