Monday, 30 January 2012

Crime in Britain; the horrifying truth

There is a question that I often ask myself. It is a disturbing one, since its implications are profound. The question is simply this; in the past, was Britain a more civilised place than it is today?

It is not an easy question to answer. Personal memories are unreliable, as people tend to romanticise the past. Historical research, particularly recent history, is heavily politicised and lacks objectivity. Statistics offer the only reliable, if imperfect way of understanding what life was like in the past.

Data tells us that 60 years ago that Britain was poorer and a less healthy place. People had lower life expectancy, and lived in poorer housing. But was Britain a less fearful place than it is today? How did people behave towards each other?

Historical crime data offers a damning indictment of modern Britain. In 1950, there were just 14 violent crimes per hundred thousand people. In 1997, that number had risen to 482. In percentage terms, that is a 3200 percent increase.

Why does the chart end in 1997? Thereafter, crime data is revised and redefined no fewer than seven times. Post-1997 data is simply not compatible with the numbers collected before that date. Insofar as more recent crime data tells us anything, violence remains broadly at the level it was in 1997. It seems to increased slightly towards the end of the 1990s. Somewhat suspiciously, it has fallen more recently.

Even allowing for data weaknesses back in the 1950s, it is incontrovertible that Britain was a safer and more law-abiding place 60 years ago. These shocking numbers point to six decades of unrelenting social disintegration on an unparalleled scale. Back in 1950, the probability of being a victim of a violence was almost zero. Today, we live under the constant and justified fear of being attacked by our neighbours.

Why did violent crime in Britain explode during the latter half of the 20th century? Personally, I don't have a simple answer. Tony Blair once famously promised that Labour would be "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime." New Labour were certainly tough on the statisticians. Revisions to crime data was an recurring feature of Blair's time in office. AS for identifying the causes, Blair and his cohort could not get beyond a vague and implausible explanation based on rising poverty. After all, UK per capita incomes have risen more or less in parallel with the crime statistics.

Apart from data revisions, the debate on crime never seems to go beyond sentencing policy and the ever expanding role of high tech surveillance. The sad truth is that Britain has long since learned to endure this frightening increase in violence. We avoid a more meaningful discussion, because it would open up questions we would rather avoid. For example, did liberalizing divorce laws, lead to the disintegration of the family unit, traumatizing children, and creating a powerful stimulus to violent behaviour?

If you want to take a crack at answering that question, then give it a go. The comments page is open. Yet I can't help feeling that if the British people living in the 1950s could get a glimpse of what life would be like in 2011, they would be horrified at how far this country has descended from the civilized standards of that time.


Sean said...

Evolution is not always pretty. What you see in the whole of nature is the division of labour and the result from that is stratification.

Pinker has a new book out where he claims things are much better now and until then I have read it I will offer no remedy, which is probably what I will do after reading it.

In broad terms I think we will destroy ourselves one way or another. The big evolutionary filter seems to be how we cope with technology and your piece seems to confirm that we don't deal with it very well.

A couple of links

Rafael H M Pereira said...

there is no linear evolution... What could make us think it is this way?

anyway, here is a link suggestion:
Compare crime rates in different England cities -

Anonymous said...

Sean 60 years of english crime data suggests that pinker is wrong.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

I know it's anecdotal but...

When I was about ten years old I used to go to Prom concerts with my mother.

This involved train travel from Essex, changing at Stratford to the underground, then right across London to South Kensington, then through "the drain" to the Albert Hall, and back again after the concert (maybe ten at night?) by the same route, arriving home about eleven, after a 20-minute walk through the streets of Romford.

Would you do it now?

Is England a more dangerous place?

Rhetorical questions, both, are they not?

Trofim said...

In some ways it was better and in some ways it was worse. But overall, people were no less happy, because we didn't know we lived in what is now dreadful poverty - no telly till I was 12, no fridge, no phone, no car etc. When I was born there were less than 3 million people in the world, less than 50 million people in the UK, few cars, more open space, and people were satisfied with far less. Consumerism was in its infancy.
I led a childhood nowadays hard for people to believe, in the Worcestershire countryside - essentially from a child's point of view, a limitless adventure playground doing things which would have the health and safety brigade screaming in horror - falling out of trees, damming streams, chasing and being chased by cows, making dens, swimming in the river and so on. A fat person was so unusual, you turned round in the street to look at them. People used to whisper that it was their "glands". Some of the world still hadn't been properly mapped and there was a feeling that that there were still unknown places, a great big exciting foreign world out there. They said that if you went to Birmingham there were coloured people, and when I first went there, aged 5, I was very disappointed - they were just brown and I'd been expecting sort of rainbow-hued people. Likewise, I was disappointed with Sparkhill where my relatives lived, because I had been expecting fireworks. One thing I do know, is that happiness has little to do with prosperity. As for crime, when I was 11 my dad was "beaten up" by some teds. He was a pianist in a three-piece band, and one night, at the village hall, the teds, who had been refused entry, came back and beat up the band. My dad has half a dozen stitches. It was a big, big story in the Worcester Evening News. It was a great rarity then. The perpetrators got stiff prison sentences. Once, someone came in the night, and took a tin of salmon out of our outhouse, which hadn't been locked. That was a shock. I remember how quiet and peaceful everything was then, compared to now. Far, far more wildlife. So many men smoked pipes. My mum (94) still breathes in my pipe smoke with pleasure at the aroma. Anyway, that's enough.

Mark said...

The crime data & the anecdotal evidence in the comments are in complete agreement with each other.
To those who are still doubters, refer them to Orwell's comment about the 'gentleness' of English life (he wrote that in the 40s), and to the fact that up to the early 70s local authorities across the land employed rent collectors who collected cash rents from door to door, and who went about their business unmolested, even on 'tough' or 'problem' estates.

As the Yachtsman writes- 'Would you do it now?'.

old man said...

Ah Yes it was better in the old days.
One thing you need to remember in the 1950-1970's nobody really carried much worth stealing, no expensive trainers, no mp3 player and no mobile phone or computer. Also with most young people not having access to their own car they were not able to go miles to commit crime, instead in their local area it was very likely someone would remember seeing them near the scene and could name them ( chances are local copper knew already)
So the oportunity and reward made it a mugs game.

Anonymous said...

Look at the gradual rise in crime and consider the following four things;
Policing methods
Uncontrolled immigration
Aping the Hollywood version of the USA
The rise of Feminism'

Chief of men said...

I suggest you bear in mind that the previous generations served in and were conditioned by world wars and natonal service.mine and following generations were not.

Anonymous said...

Crime today broadly what it was in 1997?
You having a laugh, why would Labour have constantly messed with the stats if they showed a slight decline?
They would have celebrated any decline large or small, the reality is they couldn't do that without rigging the figures.

Where I live the Police are afraid of gypies/irish travellers, they wont tackle them, its got to the point that people no longer bother reporting the crimes.
But the Police do arrest householders defending themselves...
The Police are a joke, only going for the easy target while ignoring the real problem.

You can't talk about how crime rates of the 'British' have changed in the last 60 years, without also talking about how the demographics of that population have changed.
We are not the same people, so obviously the stats wouldn't be the same.

Jim said...

Immigration. Its not that immigrants are more violent, or that the natives are violent to the immigrants (though both occur of course), its the destruction of the sense of nationhood and togetherness that mass immigration produces that creates the alienation of the individual from the collective and that opens up the door for the use of violence to get what you want (in the extreme of course). If you don't feel part of the whole, why worry about kicking some random person's head in, as you have zero connection to them in any sense?

Add liberal ideology permeating the education/child rearing sectors, and you have the perfect system for creating Lord of the Flies monsters who have zero investment in the orderly running of society.

Georgia DUI said...

Increase in crime rate means decrease in the quality of life of the citizens.

hatfield girl said...

Trofim, that's not really enough at all. Do go on. You describe a world that exists only in disapproved-of children's story books now.

But there was a childhood where sandwiches were packed in saddlebags, glasses of water could be asked for and often would be given accompanied by windfalls or a piece of cake, where a gang of children out for the day would be watched-over, monitored through the hours and across terrain by neighbourhood networks. And behaviour filtered back to parents and school.

It was gone from my generation but my uncles and aunties would remember epic bike-rides, kindnesses met-with, lost countryside now covered in houses...

Aitortxu said...

this increased crime levels is due to selfishness and breakdown of familiar networks. It is also down to inequality in all ways: economical, educational....

In the 1940s and 50s you were equal to mostly everyone else in your possesions, expectations.
I truly believe that progress has made us less capable socially.

I am not convinced inmigration has anything to do with this but i welcome any views on this.

Electro-Kevin said...

In 1950 the police were dressed traditionally, carried a torch, a stick and a whistle and patrolled alone.

2012 - the police wear stab vests, carry pepper spray, tazers, a side-handled baton and an extendable baton.

They are supported by crew cars laden with ballistics and are an armed force in all but name.

The disrespect for the police began with the landing of the Windrush.

The disrespect of parents came in the '60s with John Lennon, Mick Jagger, plays like Look Back in Anger ...

Education began to decline with Shirley Williams etc.

They were all wrong. We're living with the consequences now.

PS, The murder rate would be far higher without modern first aid techniques.

What to do if you don't want to be near it ?


how to invest in real estate said...
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RenterGirl said...

Take it back further, and you will that certain areas were no go areas, and that only middle-class victims counted. Parts of Salford where police went in two's or more. This also a larger statute book of offences: computer hacking/fraud etc.

Electro-Kevin said...

Renter Girl - Why go back further ?

We know that there were lawless times before but the Victorians managed to sort those problems out.

What has gone wrong in our society since the '50s when there was such low crime ?

Anonymous said...

I'm from the US and I'm writing because I'm participating in a forum on gun control in the US. Some people in that forum are saying that an armed population (like we have in the US) is necessary to prevent crime and the rise in violent crime in Britain proves that guns are necessary.

Does anyone here agree with that? Why or why not?

mobile marketing for business said...

we live under the constant and justified fear of being attacked by our neighbors.