Link between unemployment and crime rates has ‘broken down’, study claims

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The link between rising unemployment and crime has “broken down” and has more recently been nonexistent, it is claimed.

As part of a series of new pieces of research to be presented at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies on Friday, the once strong association between employment and property crime has been questioned.

New research by the universities of Sheffield, Southampton and SciencesPO in Paris suggests the link, recognised as strong in the 1970s and 1980s, fell from 1995 and was nonexistent by 2005.

The findings shed light on why the official crime rate did not rise after the 2007 financial crash.

The role of the welfare system in shielding people from economic shocks, the growth of part-time work and more flexible working patterns have been suggested by researchers as possible reasons for the change as well as the rise of “nontraditional” online crime.

Professor Will Jennings of the University of Southampton, who will present the study, also pointed out that improved crime prevention may have played a part.

“The evidence covering the past decade suggests the link between the economic cycle and crime rates has broken down, particularly in relation to unemployment rates,” he said. “We cannot be sure why fluctuations in economic conditions no longer predict the sorts of changes in recorded crime rates they used to.”

“It may be due to differences between the sorts of economic shocks experienced by the UK in the 1970s and 1980s compared to today. It could also be because of changes in the labour market dampening the effects of recent economic downturns. It could also be due to trends in crime prevention measures such as growth in use of burglar alarms, CCTV and car immobilisers.”

Other research to be presented at Centre for Crime and Justice Studies includes changes in domestic property crime in the 1980s and 1990s and changing attitudes to crime and punishment across generations.

The authors of one study claim to have found that a victimisation gap opened up between owner occupiers and those in socially rented accommodation, or council housing, from the early 1980s.

Domestic property crime rates grew for all householders during the 1980s and 1990s, but those living in social housing saw their risk grow much more sharply – by 1996 social renters were three times more likely to experience such crime.

Professor Stephen Farrall from the University of Sheffield will present the findings. He claims ‘right to buy’ schemes introduced during the period helped to open up a gap that led predominantly owner-occupied areas to become more desirable, experiencing less social problems.

He said right to buy created “two classes of citizenship with regards to victimisation risks”.

“The first class citizens lived in homes they owned and faced relatively lower levels of domestic property crime; the second class citizens lived in socially rented homes and faced persistently higher levels of victimisation risks,” Prof Farrell added. “If we are to reduce these inequalities in risk, we need to invest in the social rented sector much more than we have done since 1980.”