It is not easy to find statistics that that neatly captures the extent of criminality in Britain. Over the last decade or so, data on the number of offences has been regularly revised and redefined. This rejigging of numbers has made recent crime data a shade unreliable.
Last year, the Ministry of Justice, produced a report that gets very close to identifying the cultural significance of the crime wave that hit Britain in the latter decades of the 20th century. Their 2010 report "Conviction histories of Offenders between the ages of 10 and 52", provided a series of extraordinary statistics for the number of adults convicted of crimes enumerated on the Ministry's "standard list" of offences. The report provided some incredible insights into the social norms of the generation that is now in their 50s - the baby boomers.
To start, we need to clarify what is meant by the the standard list of offences. This list covers all the big ticket crimes. It also includes any crime that is indictable or subject to trial. For example, driving without insurance and common assault would qualify for the standard list.
We will ask the easy question first; what proportion of adults in England and Wales are convicted criminals? In 2006, the last year covered by the study, around 15 per cent of people between the ages of 10 and 52 in England and Wales had at least one conviction. The number for men was males is 24 per cent and for females 6 per cent. In other words, a quarter of the male population had found themselves in court and convicted at least once. Those are pretty big numbers. Britain isn't exactly a nation of law abiders.
The report then asked a second, much more revealing question; what proportion of men who were 53 in 2006 - that is to say, men born in 1959 - had a conviction. The number was a third. Just over half of these had been convicted on only one occasion and 18 per cent had been convicted more than 5 times. For women the number is 9 percent with 5 percent having five or more convictions.
From that cohort of men aged 53, take a guess at the proportion that had been convicted of a crime before they reached the age of 18. In other words, what proportion were juvenile offenders. Brace yourself, this number is a shocking; it is 14 percent. Roll the clock forward, and ask the same question about the cohort born in 1988. The answer is just 7.8 percent.
Are people born in the late 1980s less likely to commit an offence than someone born in the 1950s? The tentative evidence suggests that they are. First, we need to acknowledge attitudes of the police towards youth offenders. During the early 1970s, the justice system began treating the young more leniently. The police made far greater use of cautions rather than convictions. This suggests that recent juvenile conviction rates might be understated.
Nevertheless, recent crime data suggest that today's youngsters might be a little better behaved than their elders. Crime starts to increase in the 1960s and rises dramatically from the 1970s onward. This is around the time that the 1953 generation starts to enter their early teens. Offences peaks in the early 2000s and then starts to fall. This is around the time that the generation born in 1988 become young adults.
Britain's crime statistics are appalling. However, there is perhaps an undue emphasis on the young offenders. Earlier generations also behaved badly. The boomers were particularly prone to criminal activity. Moreover, a large proportion of boomers had been tangling with the law when they were young.
This crime data emphasises a deep truth about the baby boomers. They have always behaved disgracefully.
As teenagers, the boomers maligned and insulted their parents. When they turned to creative activities, they coughed up a corpus of nihilistic and indulgent art. Unconvinced? Just listen to the musical carnage of the Sex Pistols are the Clash. Then go down and have a look at the dross that infests the Tate Modern. They produced this rubbish while indulging in prodigious levels of substance abuse.
However, bad behaviour didn't stop there. As young adults, many of the boomers rejected the cultural and religious heritage of their country, and derided its historical achievements.
When they grew a little older, many of them refused the responsibilities of family, marriage, and parenthood, leaving their offspring, insofar as they produced any, bereft of stability. They explained their hedonistic lifestyles with tawdry claims that a social revolution was underway and that the nuclear family was outdated and unnecessary.
By the time they reached their forties, they were blowing up the economy with an unparallelled explosion of personal debt. When they had taken over the reins of power, they constructed an unsustainable social welfare system. Almost as quickly as you could say EU Treaty, they handed over sovereignty to Boomer bureaucrats in Brussels. They brought our our great Union to the edge of disintegration. While we are on the subject of boomer politicians, it was not an accident of history that the MP expenses scandal happened in the late 2000s, Check out the ages of the typical offenders. The majority of those cheating expense fiddling MPs were in their fifties.
In 10 years time, the bulk of the baby boomer generation will have retired. They want the rest of us to fund their retirement. They will ask us at a time when government indebtedness will have reached levels unseen outside of war time. Objectively, there is something deeply dishonest about running up a huge public debt stock to pay for public services and expecting the next generation to clear those debts.
We shouldn't be surprised. As the Justice department data report powerfully illustrates, the Boomer generation have an unenviable record of dishonesty