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Sobering Up

Britain’s relationship with alcohol is mixed. Alcohol is deeply engrained in the British economy and communal life. Evidence shows that overall we are drinking less than we were a decade ago. Yet, the harms of Britain’s alcohol consumption are well known through press stories and our personal experiences.  Some communities suffer from severe problems related to underage drinking, the harms of binge drinking, and dependent street drinkers.

The Government’s Alcohol Strategy laid the blame on cheap high-strength alcohol, and lobbied for a minimum unit price and a ban on multi-buy promotions in off-licences. Both proposals have since been shelved because of lack of evidence and the impact for those on low incomes. In the absence of a strong national policy, local authorities and health and wellbeing boards, which hold responsibility for public health, will now lead the way.

Local authorities will be able to tailor intervention strategies to the particular harms that their local areas face. To do this, it is vital that they have access to the best evidence available about the most effective approaches. This report contributes to providing that evidence.

Drawing on new research as well as previous research in this area, we looked specifically at the three core problems regarding alcohol: underage drinking, binge drinking and the night-time economy, and dependent street drinkers. Moreover, as this research was commissioned by the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), we were particularly keen to understand what local shops are doing to mitigate alcoholrelated harms and what more they could be doing.

The findings in this report are based on a background literature review as well as original primary research with local councillors, council officers, public health representatives, police, trading standards offices, alcohol support charities and shop owners and workers. Our research focused primarily on four areas: Blackpool, Ipswich, Manchester and Kent. These areas were chosen for their mix of alcohol-related problems, as well as their geographical and demographic spread.

Two of the areas – Ipswich and Kent – were chosen to explore innovative partnership schemes involving local retailers. In Ipswich, this included the police-led Reducing the Strength initiative to tackle street drinking; in Kent, it included a community alcohol partnership to tackle underage drinking. The Manchester and Blackpool case studies allowed us to explore issues relating to binge drinking and the night-time economy. We interviewed a total of 50 stakeholders in these areas.

In each area, we based our research in neighbourhoods and streets that were identified to us as being common sites of particular problems. Thus, the insights from the case studies will not be representative of the country overall. To counteract this, we supplemented our case studies with approximately 20 telephone interviews with off-licence retailers across the country, including small independent shop owners and the managers of larger chain stores. We also added questions to the ACS Voice of Local Shops national survey in August 2013, which reached 1,116 shops.

Finally, we received feedback on initial findings and policy recommendations at the three 2013 party conferences, the ACS Responsible Retail Forum and a stakeholder dinner hosted by Demos.

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