Alcohol is enjoyed by many and while it contributes to the economy, it is also a major cause of early death, illness, lost work days, violence, social problems, relationship difficulties and inequalities. Governments can reduce these harms by taking action to make alcohol less affordable (price policy) and less easily available (availability policy), and by reducing how much it is advertised and promoted (marketing policy). Across the four nations of the United Kingdom (UK), and in Republic of Ireland (ROI), there have been many recent changes in these alcohol policies which have been heavily debated by campaign groups and politicians. There is a need for research to understand the intended and unintended effects of policies, not just on health, but on social, economic and cultural aspects.
Whilst traditionally seen as a medical issue, it is clear that alcohol consumption and harms are affected by culture and politics. This network therefore proposes to bring together alcohol policy researchers from a wide range of social science and other backgrounds, and to draw others into the field, to deliver on the alcohol policy research needed in UK/ROI over the coming years.
Our ACTIVITIES will focus on four themes: Availability, Marketing, Price & Politics. The network is run by volunteers, with modest funding for activities from the Irish Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council in the UK. Planned activities include the following but will be adapted to run online where needed:
1) A website, blog and twitter feed; 2) A launch event with researchers and policy partners; 3) Open seminars on each of the four themes, each hosted by a different university, with side meetings to build teams for future research; 4) Study visits for 4 selected early career researchers to spend time with more experienced colleagues; 5) A workshop to build capacity on alcohol policy research and give time for teams to develop funding applications; and 6) A UK/ROI open research symposium to which any researchers can submit abstracts to present their work, with invited speakers and free places for early career researchers.
The network will be led by Prof. Joe Barry in ROI and Prof. Niamh Fitzgerald in the UK. Niamh is a Professor of Alcohol Policy and specialises in studies drawing on expertise across different academic disciplines to better understand intended and unintended consequences of policy interventions. Joe has worked in substance use for 30 years and chairs an expert group set up by the Minister for Health in ROI on which three other ACORN colleagues also sit. Niamh and Joe are joined in founding ACORN by 14 co-applicants from 13 institutions across the UK, from 10+ disciplines and with cross-cutting interests in the four themes.
The bid will benefit from the active involvement of policy partners from government departments in NI, ROI and Scotland; and public health agencies across the UK. It will link into existing policy groups, including the UK/ROI British Irish Council, and the NI/ROI North South Alcohol Policy Advisory Group. The Institute of Public Health in Ireland, an all island body with a remit to inform public policy in both ROI and NI is an active partner and will provide administrative support to the network.
We expect that the network will give rise to new research teams involving UK & ROI academics, and new alcohol policy studies focused within or across the four policy themes. A clear focus will be to build collaborations with the capacity and capability of competitive funding applications for future research. With our partners, we will actively plan for the future of the network beyond the funded period.