UK alcohol policy weaker than devolved nations

Gaëlle Laforest

13 November 2015

The UK government's policies on alcohol are weaker than they are in the devolved nations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, a new report has shown.

Research undertaken by Health First, the independent expert-devised UK alcohol strategy, observed that policies across the four nations vary in terms of how much they are grounded in scientific fact, and how much they are influenced by political considerations.

Scotland was found to have the strongest approach, with the most evidence-based policies, and a task force in place to evaluate the Scottish government's strategy.

Meanwhile Wales and Northern Ireland were strict when it came to taxation and restriction on young drivers, but had less legislative power compared to the Scottish Parliament.

As for the UK, it 'did not support the most effective policies, made inconsistent use of evidence, and was the most engaged with the alcohol industry', the report showed.

Overall strategy, pricing, marketing and availability of alcohol were amongst the areas examined.

Dr Niamh Fitzgerald, lecturer in alcohol studies and co-author of the report, said: 'Alcohol policy at UK government level is in disarray, with it choosing to reduce taxation despite evidence that consumption and alcohol-related harms will increase as a result, putting even greater pressure on NHS and emergency services.

'In contrast to the UK government, the devolved administration – especially Scotland – are taking steps to address the widespread harms due to alcohol, recognising that they are a "whole population" issue. All four nations, however, engage in partnership with the alcohol industry, despite clear conflicts of interest and its history of failure to support those policies most likely to work.'

Peter O’Neill, evidence exchange manager at the Alliance for Useful Evidence, which commissioned the report, said: 'Devolution in the UK provides opportunities for exchange of evidence and learning about what works through experimentation with different policies across the four nations. This report calls on administrations to support such learning, by engaging openly and maturely with the alcohol policy evidence, being honest about reasons for policy decisions, and robustly evaluating policy initiatives.'

However, he added that research suggested that 'alcohol policy may sometimes be underpinned by ideology more than by evidence, and is likely to be less effective as a result'.

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