What's happening to the crime rate in the UK?
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The way the media reports crime suggests we are constantly surrounded by disorder and brutality. It almost implies that crime rates around us are increasing, but apparently this is not the case at all. Crime in Britain and Wales has actually been falling steadily for almost 20 years. There’s been a long-term downward trend since the mid-90s, reaching an all-time low in 2014 when crime rates hit their lowest recorded level since 1981. This fall drastically undermines the popular economic theory that, faced with a recession, the UK was going to suffer from increasing crime rates. But, as the recession drags on and crime rates continue to plummet, criminologists, politicians and social scientists are pondering several other theories. Crime rate fluctuations cannot be attributed to one single factor, but are dependent on a concoction of various issues; shifting social and economic factors, the emerging impact of technology and the highly underestimated fact that many cases often remain unreported all contribute. First let’s consider that crime simply might not be reported properly. The British government operates in two main ways when assessing criminality within the nation. The police keep a record of all crimes reported to them, and since 1982 there’s also the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), a survey of 35,000 households and their experience of crime. However, there are faults in the system. Many crimes go unreported by the victims. A staggering 80% of women don’t report rape or sexual assault; difficulty distinguishing stolen objects from lost ones often results in unreported crime; many people aren’t informed enough about the process of reporting a crime; and with the closing of police stations and cuts to the number of police officers, it means reporting crimes is becoming increasingly difficult. There also are faults from an authoritative standpoint, as there have been suggestions of police forces inflating statistics due to the pressure to meet national crime rate quotas issued by the government. The Office for National Statistics (ONS), for instance, expressed concerns that over the last five years, the police listed 400,000 offences as “anti-social behaviour” instead of criminal offences. The CSEW also excludes from its records crimes committed against businesses – e.g. shoplifting – and does not question some of society’s most vulnerable or excluded people, for example the homeless. It also fails to adequately assess credit card fraud, as victims report their bank or card issuer more than they do to the police. Specialists refer to all of the above as the ‘Dark Figure’ of crime. According to 2014 statistics, 1 in 5 crimes go unreported. There is therefore a possibility that the margin of error in crime recording is greater than what is currently being taken into consideration, and this could be the reason why the crime rate in Britain is supposedly falling.
Source: Office for National StatisticsSecond, let’s consider technology’s role. When it comes to assessing criminality in the modern age, authorities suffer from an inability to keep up with technology. Contemporary digital crimes are completely different from many crimes in the material world: very common, but also very hard to track. John Graham, director of the Police Foundation think-tank, states: “Crime is moving online, and that organised crime is difficult to assess.” This significantly affects statistics, as “levels have more than doubled after official figures included cyber-crime and fraud for the first time.” According to the ONS, more than seven million cases of online fraud are committed every year. As the internet offers easy access to a vast array of information, it is the perfect platform to practice piracy, fraud, blackmail, harassment and the exchange of stolen or counterfeit goods. What is often described as low-level e-crime is actually being committed with impunity on a vast scale.
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