The Guardian’s lead story this morning had the headline ‘Cut poverty to reduce crime, says police leader.’ I’m not sure why this story merited a front page lead. Was it because a police chief was straying into political territory? One can imagine backwoods Tory MPs saying ‘catch them and lock ‘em up then.’ Or was it because this was a genuinely new discovery by the police? Or could it be that the police, indeed the justice system should spend more time tackling those who keep the poor, poor? The likes of Uber, Amazon, the gig economy? Now that would be political . . not least if it led to efforts to rein in the multitude of vastly wealthy people who use every trick in the book to fiddle the system on the margins (and beyond) of the law. They, and of course their fellow travellers like former ministers and prime ministers who corrupt the state with their behind the scenes influence.
The outspoken top police officer, the retiring chief constable of Merseyside Andy Cooke said that in his experience he didn’t think most criminals were inherently bad and if they could just earn a decent living most would chose to do so. Actually, I suspect that most people who are poor still don’t commit crimes, but where they do I also suspect drug use is an important factor, in which case an honest look at legalising and controlling the supply of drugs would be a good idea.
Given that Merseyside is generally seen as a poor region, and Andy Cooke was its chief constable, you might think it was a crime hot spot. But that all depends on what type of crime is being considered. Google ‘UK white collar crime’ and a different picture emerges. The first hit White-Collar Crime Statistics | DPP Business & Tax Solicitors (dpp-businesstax.com) reveals that the UK’s richest region leads the way ‘The southeast of England seems to host the largest number of fraud cases. Essex is top for consumer fraud and bank fraud, with 12.7 and 12.2 reports per 10,000 people respectively. The national average for each is 11.3 and 5.4.’ The same website reports that the UK loses £190 billion to fraud each year. That does seem rather a lot. Only six years ago the total UK cost of crime against individuals and businesses was estimated by the Office for National Statistics to be £59 billion. Perhaps white collar crime has rocketed, because the ONS also report that crime excluding fraud has dropped dramatically since the mid 1990s.
All in all, whilst I’m not a criminologist, I would say a headline reading ‘Cut wealth to reduce crime’ might not be so far off the mark.