Socialist Worker

Desperate times hidden by crime report spin

New statistics have been heralded as showing that crime is not linked to poverty. Annette Mackin looks beyond the hype to a bitterly divided society

Issue No. 2352


Do crime figures mean there are no problems in Britain?

Do crime figures mean there are no problems in Britain? (Pic: Conservative Party)

A new report suggesting that crime is continuing to fall despite the recession has baffled commentators.

They claim that widely accepted explanations for crime will have to be thrown out.

Police report an 8 percent drop in crime on last year, while the Crime Survey for England and Wales put the fall at 5 percent.

The official 2012 statistics show that all the main categories of crime recorded by the police fell. 

Violence was down 6 percent, robbery down 13 percent, burglary down 9 percent, murder down 4 percent and knife crime down 16 percent.

This puts the annual level of recorded crimes in England and Wales at an estimated 9.7 million. 

But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Although overall crime appears to be going down, there are important exceptions.

So, crimes relating to property theft are down as cars and homes become more secure.

But police and charities have recorded a sharp increase in people stealing food as austerity bites, the cost of living rises and wages remain frozen.

Supermarkets such as Iceland have recently taken to locking higher value joints of meat in plastic boxes, escalating a tendency by businesses of tagging meat to prevent theft.


Police have been forced to admit that, while the national statistic for shoplifting remains steady, there has been a marked increase in theft in areas of high poverty.

Food theft represented almost a third of all shoplifting in 2012, according to Chief Superintendent Chris Sykes of Greater Manchester Police. That’s an increase of 19 percent from 2011.

South Yorkshire police also reported a rise in “desperation thefts” with a 28 percent increase in thefts in Rotherham. 

Police report the bulk of these are being committed by young mothers stealing formula milk for their children.

The figures are not exhaustive. They relate to children and adults who live in private homes and have been a victim of up to five crimes.

Most people still overestimate how likely they are to be a victim of crime.

Many commentators have pointed out that crime figures have nearly halved since a peak in 1995. 

They suggest it is no longer correct to link crime and the economy.

But it is too soon to measure the full impact that austerity will have on crime levels, especially murder, as poverty and alienation gradually take their toll. 

Richard Garside at the UK Justice Policy Review has pointed out that the recession in the 1980s had an impact on high crime levels in the 1990s.

Commentators heralding a change in the experience of crime are not taking into account the obvious economic connection.

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