Press Releases

Poverty the prime suspect in murder, new report argues

Date released: 17/10/05

People living in the poorest neighbourhoods are nearly six times more likely to be murdered than those living in the richest areas, a new report from the Crime and Society Foundation claims today (Monday, October 17). And while the richest members of society are now less likely to be murdered than was the case in the early 1980s, the poorest in society are far more likely to be murdered, the report, Criminal Obsessions, points out. This inequality in life chances is related to the social and economic polices of successive governments over the past twenty years, which have seen the gap between rich and poor increase, the report argues.

Another chapter in Criminal Obsessions demonstrates the high price paid by employees for successive governments' drives to 'deregulate' business. More than a thousand employees die from occupational fatalities each year, and hundreds of thousands are injured. Yet health and safety inspections are low and successful prosecutions lower still. The chapter argues that greater employee protection would most likely come about through a stronger union presence in the workplace and increased business regulation.

More generally, this innovative and groundbreaking report challenges conventional thinking that sees the criminal justice system as effective in preventing and tackling crime. The narrow focus on particular categories of crime deflects attention from other more socially damaging harms, the report authors argue. And the increasing dependence upon the criminal justice system to address the visible symptoms of society's ills obscures our understanding of the social and economic remedies to those ills.

Professor Daniel Dorling of the University of Sheffield, author of the chapter on murder, said, 'The rate of murder in the Britain can be seen as a marker of social harm. The rate has risen most for those demographic groups and in those areas, for whom and where people have become relatively poorer over time. The rate of murder represents the tip of an iceberg of violence.'

Professor Steve Tombs of Liverpool John Moores University, author of the chapter on workplace deaths and injuries, said, 'Criminal law, if it were actually enforced can help reduce the scale of death, injury and disease caused by work. But this would take an enormous hike in resources and a radical shift in the regulators' mindset. The most effective improvements in health and safety at work have been, and will continue to be, secured by genuinely empowering those who face risks on a day-to-day basis - workers and their representatives.'

Christina Pantazis of the University of Bristol, and joint author of the report said, 'A social harm approach might allow greater consideration to be given to appropriate policy responses for reducing levels of harm. The aim should be to reduce the extent of harm that people experience from cradle to grave. On almost any publicly stated rationale upon which legitimacy has been sought for them, criminal justice systems are ineffective in achieving this.'

Richard Garside, director of the Crime and Society Foundation, said, 'Certain individual crimes, and certain categories of crime, tend for all sorts of reasons to grab our attention. The result is that we overlook crimes and other harmful behaviours that are actually far more damaging to our society. To redress this imbalance we need to address our obsession for applying criminal justice solutions to complex social problems and develop a broader perspective on what actions and activities cause the most harm and damage.'

ends

Contact: Richard Garside, 020 7848 1698; 07989 474 610

Notes to editors

  1. Criminal Obsessions: Why harm matters more than crime is published by the Crime and Society Foundation on October 17, 2005, priced £10. It is jointly authored by Paddy Hillyard, Christina Pantazis, Steve Tombs, Dave Gordon and Danny Dorling, and is based on work first published by Pluto Press in 2004 as Beyond Criminology: Taking Harm Seriously.
  2. Copies of Criminal Obsessions can be downloaded here.
  3. Hard copies are available on request. Contact: 020 7848 1685.
  4. The Crime and Society Foundation is a social policy and criminal justice think tank based at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College London. The Foundation stimulates debate about the role and limits of criminal justice and enhances understanding of the foundations and characteristics of a safer society.
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