British Crime Historians Conference 2014

Historical Institutionalism,
Agendas and Crime: an
analysis of the politics of
crime since 1979
Will Jennings, Stephen Farrall,
Colin Hay and Emily Gray
BCH 2014
Figure 1: Property Crime Per Capita (Home
Office Recorded Statistics and BCS)
In which ways might this be
a legacy of ‘Thatcherite’
• Economic change
• Changes in the
housing market
• Changes in social
security provision
• Changes in
education policies
(esp. after 1988)
Economic Changes
• During the 1970s there was a move away
from the commitment to Keynesian
policies and full employment.
• Dramatic economic restructuring overseen
by Thatcher governments.
• Consequently, levels of unemployment
rose through the 1980s (see Fig 2).
Figure 2: Unemployment Rate (%), 1970-2006
Economic Changes
This in turn led to
increases in levels
of inequality
(Figure 3),
augmented by
changes in taxation
policies which
favoured the better
Figure 3: Income Inequality
(Gini coefficient), 1970-2006
The Economy and Crime in
Post-War Britain
• Using time series analyses for 1961-2006
Jennings et al (2012) find statistically
significant relationships for:
1: the unemployment rate on the rate of property crime
(consistent with other studies),
2: we also find that the crime-economy link
strengthened during this period.
3: (economic inequality just outside bounds of
Housing Policy
• 1980 Housing Act (+ others): created RTB
– saw a huge rise in owner-occupation.
• Held to have created residualisation of
council housing; transient/marginalised
residents with low levels of employment.
• Contributed to increases in inequality
(Ginsberg, 1989) and concentration of
crime (Murie, 1997).
Social Security
• 1980-1985: Some tinkering with the
• 1986 Social Security Act based on Fowler
• Following this payments reduced for many
individual benefits claimants (whilst total
spend increased due to unemployment).
Social Security
• Evidence to suggest that reductions in
government expenditure are associated
with rises in crime during the 1980s (Reilly
and Witt, 1992).
• Jennings et al (2012) suggest that
increases in welfare spending is
associated with declines in the property
crime rate.
• Changes in education policies encouraged
schools to exclude children in order to
improve place in league tables.
• Exclusions rose during the 1990s,
reaching a peak of 12,668 in 1996-97.
• Dumped on the streets this fuelled ASB
(Home Office RDS Occ. Paper No. 71).
• The BCS 1992-2006 shows sudden jump of
people reporting “teens hanging around” to
be a problem from an average of 8% before
2001 to 30% after 2002.
• School exclusions helped to create
discourse of ASB and need for C&DA 1998.
British Crime Survey ASB items
Anti-Social Behaviour (Common Problems)
Noisy Neighbours
Abandoned Cars
Teens Hanging Around
Race Attack
What happened to crime (etc)?
• Rise in crime (Fig 5). This was generally rising
before 1979, but the rate of increase picked up
after early 1980s and again in early 1990s.
• Fear of crime rises (tracks crime rates, Fig 6).
• People want to see an increase in spending on
the police/prisons (with decrease of spending on
social security, Fig 7).
Figure 5: Property Crime Per Capita (Home
Office Recorded Statistics and BCS)
Figure 6: Percentage worried about
crime (BCS 1982-2005)
Fig 7: Priorities for extra spending
(social security vs. police) BSAS 1983-2009
Labour Party’s Response
• Move to the political right.
• ‘Tough on crime, tough on the causes of
• Focus on ‘young offenders’ (Pledge Card,
C&DA, YJB, changes to doli incapax).
• Did not oppose Crime (Sentences) Act
1997 despite it being quite draconian (‘3
strikes’, minimum mandatory sentences).
Labour In Government
Needed to do something about crime
because …
a) it actually was a problem (peak was in
1994) but still a source of public concern
b) they needed to be seen to be doing
something to avoid being accused of having
‘gone soft on crime again’.
What have Govts done?
• They devote more time to crime in it’s
expressed policy agenda (Fig 8).
• Little sustained interest in crime until 60s
• After 1979 GE rises to 8%.
• Big jump again in 1996 (15%).
• Thereafter runs at or near to 20%.
Figure 8: Proportion of attention to law and crime in
Queen’s Speech (from
What have Govts done?
• Farrall and Jennings report statistically
significant relationships for:
1: national crime rate on Govt attention on
crime in Queen’s Speeches, and,
2: effects of public opinion on Govt. attention
on crime in Queen’s Speeches.
• So the Govt responds to crime rates and
expressions of public concern about crime.

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