As in most UK elections, crime figures high on the list of voter concerns. The opposition Conservatives, as well as sections of the media, complain of what they call “Broken Britain.” They see a society that is becoming ever more dangerous and unpleasant. But just how broken is Britain?
Since peaking in 1995, crime has fallen steadily by 45 percent. Violent incidents are down 49 percent over the same period.
Paradoxically, though, three quarters of people think the situation is worse on a national level, while only a minority – one in three – say they have noticed more crime in their local area.
Dr. Jason Roach, a criminologist at the University of Huddersfield, said: “There’s aways been this disparity between what’s actually happening out there crime-wise and what people perceive it to be. And much of that is media amplification really. The big stories make it into the news.”
The more widespread use of CCTV has brought stabbings to the public’s attention. In the past, such images were much less available and the incident might have been limited to the local paper. Now, thanks to dramatic pictures, it is national television news.
Marches in support of the victims unite the local community in grief. Footage of the marches unites the nation in shock.
A widely reported series of stabbings in London in 2008 made knife crime headline news for weeks.
Statistically, homicides caused by stabbings in the UK were down on the previous year.
Away from violent crime, one of the Labour government’s first measures to mend society was the ASBO. Designed to make citizens more civil, they are often associated with young delinquents.
Claire Vanneck, a PhD student in criminology at the University of Leicester, said: “An ASBO, an Anti-Social Behaviour Order, is pretty much whatever you want it to be. It legislates against any kind of anti-social behaviour, which really is down to how you want to define anti-social behaviour. Be that noise, drugs, drinking, late-night parties…(hanging around)…yeah, hanging around in general can be defined as anti-social behaviour.”
Dr. Pamela Fisher, a sociologist at the University of Huddersfield, said: “While an ASBO doesn’t criminalise a young person, as such, if the ASBO is broken…Say an ASBO is imposed for creating a nuisance in a neighbourhood; alot of noise, rowdiness and what have you, that in itself isn’t criminal behaviour. But if an ASBO is then breached, that becomes a criminal offence. So what you’re actually doing is dragging young people into the criminal justice system that wouldn’t otherwise have got into it.”
Labour marched to power in 1997 promising to be “tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.” For those who are in the criminal justice system, this has meant a greater chance of being sent behind bars.
Charlotte Bilby, a lecturer in criminology at the University of Leicester said: “The Labour Party in the last 12 years has locked more and more people up so the prison population has doubled in the last 15 years or so. So the Labour government has been locking people up to demonstrate that they are tough on crime. Whether that is effective in changing offenders behaviour is entirely questionable.”
Is Britain Broken? The statistics suggest it’s no more broken than it ever was. But the public, exposed to eye-catching images on the news, might tell us otherwise. But what the figures, the people and the experts tell us is that there will always be things in British society that are in need of some repair.