Thursday, July 20, 2006

 

Why Don't we Believe Crime is Falling?

One of the most disbelieving reactions to official figures is elicited, in my experience, when government figures for crime are discussed. According to the latest figures, serious crime in England and Wales peaked in 1995 and is now down 44% in ten years. Jon Simmons, Head of Home Office Research and Statistics complains that 'comparatively high proportions of people still believe the crime rate to have risen. This is not true.' Polly Toynbee on Any Questions last week drew the same reaction from the audience and fellow panellists when she asserted this fact. I get the same thing in the pub and when talking to people who live close to me.

The average home is now likely to be burgled once every 50 years compared with once every 25 years in 1995. But there is a confusing contradiction in the figures in that fear of crime has fallen steadily since crime figures began to fall; now only 13% say they are scared of burglary or car crime. If people have become less worried, then why do such high percenges insist we are still in the middle of a crime wave? One clue is provided by the papers people read. Tabloids love to splash front page stories about old people being beaten up when the actual incidence of such crimes is very rare. I suppose it's because we rather like to be horrified and to roundly condemn and tabloid editors have antennae well attuned to such likes.

It should not surprise us therefore that readers of such sources, according to Simmons, 'are twice as likely [39%] as those who read broadshetts[19%] to think that the national crime rate has increased "a lot" in the pevious year'. Twas ever thus I suppose and politicians bemoaning the press is, as someone once said, like sailors complaining about the sea. Maybe it just takes time for public attitudes to catch up with social reality but it's just yet another critical political problem for the beleagured Home Office to have cope with. Crime is one of the one or two most highly rated problems indicated by voters in surveys but it seems huge public expenditures can produce results only for no-one to believe them.

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