Less crime without more equality?

AQMeN Director Susan McVie responded to the March 2016 figures from the Scottish Crime and Justice survey.

The Justice Strategy for Scotland sets out a vision for “an inclusive and respectful society where all people live in safety and security”. So the latest crime figures, published this week, showing another large reduction in victimization will be welcome news for the Scottish Government.

The 2014/15 Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (SCJS) reported a 16% drop in crime since the previous survey in 2012/13, and a 34% drop since 2008/09. In fact, the likelihood of being a victim of crime in Scotland has fallen by around 1% per year on average over the last seven years and is lower than the equivalent risk in England and Wales.

The downward trend applies across all crime types. Property crime fell by 13% since 2012/13, while violent crime fell by 21% (although this drop was not statistically significant). And despite concerns about the impact of austerity on crime, the biggest reduction was in housebreaking, which fell by 38%.

So crime in Scotland, as measured by the SCJS, stands at an all time low, which has to be good news for all Scots. Or is it?

Delving a little deeper into the report, it is clear that crime is not the same for everybody. Young people aged 16-24, men and people living in the 15% most deprived areas of Scotland are at higher risk of being victims than others.

Of course, this is not new. A quick scan of SCJS reports going back several years shows a similar pattern. Indeed, any victimization survey report from any time and any country is likely to show that men, young people and those from the most deprived communities are the most likely in society to be victimized. Sadly, it has become something of an accepted fact.

However, what is new is that the gap in the risk of victimization among those living in Scotland’s 15% most deprived communities and the rest of Scotland has widened.

Between 2008/9 and 2012/13, the risk of victimization fell by 18% for those living in the most deprived communities and a very similar 17% for the rest of Scotland. However, between 2012/13 and 2014/15, there was no reduction in risk of victimization for the most deprived Scots and yet risk fell by a further 17% for Scots living in other parts of the country.

In other words, not only are those people who live in our most challenged and disadvantaged Scottish communities at greater risk of experiencing crime than others in the first place, but the dividend of greater ‘safety and security’ being enjoyed by others as crime falls does not apply to them.

So, are we experiencing less crime without more equality?

A recent report published by AQMeN researchers shows that the risk of victimization in Scotland has grown steadily more unequal for the last twenty years. So, while overall crime has fallen significantly, those who have benefited the most are those who were already at the least risk of being a victim. Whereas, there has been no decline in risk among those people who are the most frequent victims of crime and who often experience high levels of violence.

Further to this, another article by the same research team suggests that frequently victimized people are becoming more concentrated within communities that experience the highest levels of social deprivation, such as chronic health conditions and poor educational attainment.

Interestingly, at least two further reports were published this week highlighting the dangers of inequality in Scotland. The Scottish Health Behaviour in School-age Children (HBSC) study reported that living in neighbourhoods with low socio-economic status had an adverse effect on children’s health and other outcomes. While the Scottish Government Commission on Widening Access highlighted recent UCAS statistics that 18-year olds from our 20% least deprived communities are 4 times more likely to enter higher education than the equivalent bottom 20%. It made recommendations aimed at reducing the gap in educational attainment between the most and least deprived communities in Scotland, which builds on previous AQMeN research in this area.

So, the fact that Scots are experiencing less crime is to be celebrated. But, as long as we can identify a large and widening gap in equality between those for whom crime is a daily lived reality and those who have little risk of being victimized, the prospect of declaring Scotland “an inclusive and respectful society where all people live in safety and security” is a bleak one.


Susan McVie