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Four Nations: How Evidence-based are Alcohol Policies and Programmes across the UK?

The consumption of alcohol is an established part of life in the UK. The alcohol industry contributes to the economy through employment and exports. While many people choose not to drink, the majority of adults accept and enjoy alcohol at least occasionally. This consumption comes with a price: the more frequent the drinking, and the greater the quantity on each occasion, the greater risk of harm to the individual. Such risks include a higher chance of cancer, liver and heart disease and mental health problems, and for a minority, consumption leads to dependence. For families, higher levels of alcohol consumption can lead to or exacerbate relationship problems, domestic violence, and negatively impact on parenting. As a society, we lose further through alcohol-related absenteeism and lost productivity; as well as crime and disorder and public nuisance.

In the UK, responsibility for alcohol policy is divided between the UK Government and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with some powers reserved to the UK parliament and some under devolved control. Some obvious differences in approach have emerged in recent years, most notably with Scotland passing legislation to implement a minimum price per unit of alcohol, while the UK Government announced and then reversed its support for a similar policy in England and Wales. Since then the Welsh and Northern Irish administrations have announced support for this policy. As policies diverge or are replicated across different nations/ administrations, the question arises of what evidence (if any) is underpinning these differing decisions.

This report outlines a comparison of alcohol policies and programmes across the four jurisdictions of the UK, and the UK as a whole, with each other and with evidence-based interventions. In doing so, we wanted to answer two questions:

1. How is evidence used in proposing alcohol policies and programmes, and theirevaluation, across the UK?
2. How evidence-based are the actions and interventions proposed in alcohol policies and programmes across the UK?