PSA 2014 - University of Sheffield

Historical Institutionalism,
Agendas and Crime: an
analysis of the politics of
crime since 1979
Will Jennings, Stephen Farrall,
Colin Hay and Emily Gray
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
Developments post-1993:
• Howard (Home Sec 1993-97) talks tough on crime.
• Prison population rises immediately (Newburn 2007).
• Rise in average sentences: Riddell 1989:170;
Newburn 2007:442-4.
• Trend continued, appears due to tough sentences
and stricter enforcement. MoJ 2009: 2-3 cites
mandatory minimum sentences (aimed at burglars
and drug traffickers) as a cause.
• Prison population grew by 2.5% p.a. from 1945 to
1995, but by 3.8% p.a. 1995-2009 (MoJ, 2009: 4).
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 9).
• 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 9: 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.
Consistent with Cascades of Policy
Radicalism (Hay and Farrall, 2014)
• Radicalism cascaded through various sectors
of social and economic policy.
• Initial focus on the economy and electorally
popular policies (e.g. housing).
• Social Security reformed mid-1980s.
• From 1987 education, NHS, local Govts.
• Focus on crime a ‘spillover’ from other areas.
Cascading Policy Radicalism
Social Security
Degree of policy radicalism
Degree of policy radicalism
Net radicalism
Net radicalism
Social Security
Industrial relations
Criminal justice
Industrial relations
Criminal justice
Term I
Term I
Term 2
Term 2
Term 3
Term 3
Further Info/Readings
Farrall, S. and Hay, C. (2010) Not So Tough on Crime? Why Weren’t the Thatcher Governments More Radical
In Reforming the Criminal Justice System? British Journal of Criminology, 50(3):550-69.
Farrall, S. and Jennings, W. (2012) Policy Feedback and the Criminal Justice Agenda: an analysis of the
economy, crime rates, politics and public opinion in post-war Britain, Contemporary British History,
Farrall, S. and Jennings, W. (2014) Thatcherism and Crime: The Beast that Never Roared?, in Farrall S., and
Hay, C. Thatcher’s Legacy: Exploring and Theorising the Long-term Consequencies of Thatcherite
Social and Economic Policies, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 207-233.
Farrall, S. and Hay, C. (2014) Locating ‘Thatcherism’ In The ‘Here and Now’, in Farrall S., and Hay, C.
Thatcher’s Legacy: Exploring and Theorising the Long-term Consequencies of Thatcherite Social and
Economic Policies, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 315-339.
Farrall, S., Gray, E., Jennings, W. Hay, C. (2014) Using Ideas Derived from Historical Institutionalism to
Illuminate the Long-term Impacts on Crime of ‘Thatcherite’ Social and Economic Policies: A Working Paper.
Hay, C. and Farrall, S. (2014) Interrogating and Conceptualising the Legacy of Thatcherism, in Farrall S., and
Hay, C. Thatcher’s Legacy: Exploring and Theorising the Long-term Consequencies of Thatcherite
Social and Economic Policies, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 3-30.
Hay, C. and Farrall, S. (2011) Establishing the ontological status of Thatcherism by gauging its ‘periodisability’:
towards a ‘cascade theory’ of public policy radicalism, British Journal of Politics and International
Relations, 13(4): 439-58.
Jennings, W., Farrall, S. and Bevan, S. (2012) The Economy, Crime and Time: an analysis of recorded
property crime in England & Wales 1961-2006, International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice, 40(3):192210.
ESRC grant can be found at:

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