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Peace is liberty in tranquillity
April 24, 2013 4:40 AM   Subscribe

The UK Peace Index [PDF], a new publication from The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), has produced a startling new headline: against public perceptions of crime, both crime and homicide have fallen significantly. The fall over the last decade has resulted in the UK homicide rate now being roughly equivalent to that of the Western European average, and it is now at its lowest level since 1978.

The last ONS data from 2010/11 [PDF] suggest that even people who trust official statistics believe crime has gone up. 66% of them believed this was the case. Among those who distrust official statistics, 80% believe crime has gone up. However, among victims and non-victims of crimes alike, only a minority believe they live in an area where crime is above the national average. Separate research by Cardiff University suggests injuries from violent crime are down by 14% in 2012 in England and Wales.

Furthermore, the Peace Index researchers are at a loss to explain why violence is falling - not just in the UK but elsewhere - and dismiss many of the existing theories.

For those that are interested, the IEP has now also produced its second US Peace Index. The data there, too, show a sharp decline in violence. The US is more peaceful domestically now than at any other time over the last twenty years; since 1991 there has been a substantial and sustained reduction in direct violence across the US. The index showed that Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Minnesota were the most peaceful states - and that Florida, Nevada, Tennessee and Louisiana were the least peaceful - perhaps explaining the ouroboros nature of arguments about the (de)merits of gun control.

Lest one get too excited, the same organisation also produces a Global Peace Index, which Iceland tops [PDF]. The UK ranks 29th. The US ranks 88th.

Related: British Crime Survey for England and Wales; ONS Crime Statistics.

Previously: Punch line inside (Global Peace Index, 2007).
posted by MuffinMan (30 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
MoJo's absorbing and lengthy report into the relationship between lead levels and violence is a compelling read on the issue of why this is happening in a wider context. Sir Ian Blair was asked about this on the Today programme this morning, but he admitted that working out why violence was falling in the UK was "...a bit beyond my pay-grade".
posted by hydatius at 5:06 AM on April 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


How the hell are we supposed to monetize this?
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:09 AM on April 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


This isn't just a U.K. phenomenon. On the other side of the pond, the homicide rate in Chicago is at its lowest in forty years. But public perception is that crime is at an all-time high.
posted by deathpanels at 5:11 AM on April 24, 2013


That fits my experience. There do seem to be a lot more people around in need of punching...
posted by TheophileEscargot at 5:12 AM on April 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's plenty of incentive to mislead the public on this: it keeps the Daily Mail in business and gives politicians something simple they can fixate on when running for election.
posted by pipeski at 5:16 AM on April 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


This has something to do with the death of Thatcher, doesn't it?
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:17 AM on April 24, 2013


The analysis concludes that "peace is strongly linked to deprivation in income, employment opportunities, health and disability, education and in access to housing and services". However, inequality does not seem to be such a strong correlate with violence.

"The disparity between income levels (the Gini coefficient), while still significant, has a much weaker correlation with peace than poverty'," the report notes.


There's plenty of incentive to mislead the public on this because it suggests that Britain's relatively conservative economic policies aren't perhaps as bad as some would like them to be.
posted by three blind mice at 5:19 AM on April 24, 2013


...are at a loss to explain why violence is falling. Well Mr Murdoch, I'm sure you feel duty bound to say it ain't so. To the presses sir!
posted by mattoxic at 5:23 AM on April 24, 2013


The US is more peaceful domestically now than at any other time over the last twenty year...

Domestically and where "peace" is defined as "the non-existence of crime" which is not exactly the usual one. I don't think a family struggling to pay the rent would describe their existence as "peaceful" nor would a drone-struck citizen.
posted by DU at 5:35 AM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not due to right wing policies as the UK has not elected a Conservative government for more than 20 years. The general political atmosphere of this country is moderate and centrist (more right wing than me, but less right wing than the Tories and Lib Dems). The current government has not been implementing its anti-welfare program for long enough for it to have influenced violence levels.

But actually all my political talk is redundant. I think there has been a decline in violence because of the changing age profile of the population. Most violence is committed by men in a certain age band, and there are just fewer young men. Wish it was something more.
posted by communicator at 5:55 AM on April 24, 2013


When did leaded gasoline get banned in the UK?
posted by eriko at 5:57 AM on April 24, 2013


Interestingly levels of violent crime in the UK are higher than the US but the homicide rate is much, much less.

Steve Killelea, the founder of the Institute for Economics and Peace, was unambiguous about the links to American gun culture on the Today programme this morning
posted by brilliantmistake at 5:57 AM on April 24, 2013


It's my understanding that this is also the case in Canada (I know for sure that violent crimes have declined nationwide since the 90s; I'm not positive about perception). It's put the government's tough-on-crime push against those who actually study crime: there's little need for new laws if the crime rate is decreasing.

Which, in my opinion, is why the gov'ts push the crime story so hard, and might explain some of the perception issues.
posted by Lemurrhea at 6:07 AM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sir Ian Blair was asked about this on the Today programme this morning, but he admitted that working out why violence was falling in the UK was "...a bit beyond my pay-grade".

After all he only makes half a million pounds. A mere 10 times the wage of a university professor.
posted by srboisvert at 6:11 AM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


"...a bit beyond my pay-grade".
What me meant was "...a bit beyond my intelligence." ?No?
posted by It is better for you not to know. at 6:24 AM on April 24, 2013


Leaded petrol was finally banned in the UK in 1998, but it had begun to be phased out considerably earlier IIRC.

My belief is that the homicide rate in the UK is so much lower than that in the US, despite the higher rate of violent crime (although I don't know how comparable the figures are here) because the vast majority of the population does not have access to handguns, and the guns we do have access to are very unsuited to gun crime of any kind. Combine that with the radical improvements in surgical care over the last decade or two and the death rate from knife attacks has dropped like a rock & therefore the homicide rate has dropped with it.

(Yes, there is some gun crime in the UK, but not at anything like US levels.)
posted by pharm at 6:44 AM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hm. Actually, maybe it was finally banned in 2000. But use had definitely been declining: at that point all new cars were unleaded only & it was only older vehicles that required the lead additives.
posted by pharm at 6:54 AM on April 24, 2013


Interestingly levels of violent crime in the UK are higher than the US but the homicide rate is much, much less.
This is a bit of a problematic statistic. It was lately raised in another thread and it seems as though the "violent crime" definition between the UK and the US isn't really comparable. Certainly the sky-high levels sometimes quoted are wrong but it isn't known exactly how wrong. A deeper look at the statistics shows that the actual level of violent crime in the UK could still be somewhat higher than the US but could also be lower.

There was a post about this topic at The Skeptical Libertarian which lays out the argument in full. Be sure to read the notes and updates at the end.
posted by Jehan at 6:58 AM on April 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


This makes me even more pissed off that I got mugged for the first time in my life three weeks ago.

Nah, it's great news, this.
posted by Decani at 7:02 AM on April 24, 2013


Also, that fact checking site claims that the homicide rate is generally lower for all crimes, not just gun-related ones (which you'd expect), so maybe there is something else going on?
posted by pharm at 7:07 AM on April 24, 2013


Jehan - I think it was in this AskMe about rape stats, and the issue is that the UK uses a very broad definition of 'violence' which inflates the figures when compared to countries with a narrower definition.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:08 AM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


To be fair to Ian Blair, I was listening to that interview and his "beyond my pay grade" comment was specifically in response to the suggestion that unleaded petrol was a causative factor - I don't think he ever claimed to be a scientist or statistician. (Clearly little is *literally* beyond his pay grade though.)

I'm inclined to suspect there are flaws in the data.
posted by dickasso at 7:13 AM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


To summarize, the UK definition of violent crime includes assault without injury, harassment, possession of a knife in a public place, causing public alarm or distress, all sexual offenses, all robbery, and 10-20 'other' crimes like child abduction.

The USA definition of violent crime (from the Universal Crime Report) is "murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault."

The two data-sets aren't directly comparable at all.
posted by Marlinspike at 7:29 AM on April 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


How the hell are we supposed to monetize this?
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:09 AM on April 24 [2 favorites +] Favorite removed! [!]



You could create a derivatives market for social impact bonds ! ( and bet for or against crime continuing to fall)
posted by Bwithh at 7:42 AM on April 24, 2013


Interesting: I've read that violent crime reduces in a recession because people can't afford alchohol.

Other hypotheses off the top of my head:
  • A switch from booze to other, less violence-inducing drugs
  • Aging population/demographics
  • Unleaded petrol
  • Better policing
  • Video games and television (more fun things to do at home)
  • "Cultural change" - begs the question
  • Inequality reduces violent crime (rather odd)
  • Changes in prison population
  • Changes in prison effect
  • Drug treatment programs
  • Changes in reporting
  • Fewer young white Britons, more peaceful non-white Britons and immigrants
  • Increased school leaving age

  • posted by alasdair at 7:57 AM on April 24, 2013


    Cameras are everywhere, people realize that they will be busted if they do something stupid. Crime goes down.
    posted by Hoosier Prospector at 8:06 AM on April 24, 2013


    It does seem like we need a good explanation. The risk is that those "law and order" types could say that draconian sentencing and omnipresent surveillance are the cause.
    posted by idb at 8:23 AM on April 24, 2013


    It is also worth noting that the British definition of murder differs from the one in the USA. From : http://rboatright.blogspot.com/2013/03/comparing-england-or-uk-murder-rates.html
    "The shortest version is this. We count and report crimes based on initial data. The Brits count and report crimes based on the outcome of the investigation and trial. Yep, that says what I meant it to say."

    And a conclusion of
    "The murder rate in the UK according to US standards is double or higher than their reported rate. It may be impossible to produce an actual apples to apples comparison number from official sources. It is not 15% of the US rate. "
    posted by jumpsuit_boy at 8:38 AM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


    That's really interesting jumpsuit_boy. Homicide rates are pretty commonly used to track violent crime rates because there's less ambiguity in terms of whether or not it happened, but you kind of remove that if you rely on the number of murders you were able to convict someone of.
    posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:42 AM on April 24, 2013


    It is also worth noting that the British definition of murder differs from the one in the USA. From : http://rboatright.blogspot.com/2013/03/comparing-england-or-uk-murder-rates.html
    "The shortest version is this. We count and report crimes based on initial data. The Brits count and report crimes based on the outcome of the investigation and trial. Yep, that says what I meant it to say."
    That post seems very shaky, and one of the comments also pulls out some statistics to show that it is likely wrong. I do not know the statistics well enough to gainsay his argument but I can myself show that he is confused at one point. After talking about how English and Welsh murder statistics are based on convictions he quotes a Home Office report which says:
    Caution is needed when looking at longer-term homicide trend figures, primarily because they are based on the year in which offences are recorded by the police rather than the year in which the incidents took place. For example, the 172 homicides attributed to Dr Harold Shipman as a result of Dame Janet Smith‟s inquiry took place over a long period of time but were all recorded by the police during 2002/03.
    Harold Shipman was only convicted on 15 counts of murder so at least 157 of the 172 homicides attributed to him have been recorded despite the lack of a trial. It is clear from this that neither a trial nor conviction is needed to record murders but simply an investigation. As we can reasonably assume that anything which involves a death will be investigated, what difference does it make?

    I also question whether it is possible to record a murder simply on initial presentation. There is no way of distinguishing between murder and manslaughter without knowing the state of mind of the person or persons who undertook the act.
    posted by Jehan at 9:17 AM on April 24, 2013


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