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Report asks whether law-abiding majority really exists

Date released: 25/06/07

Embargo: 00.01 Monday 25th June 2007

Nearly two-thirds of consumers regularly commit a range of offences against business, government and their employers according to a new report published today by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College, London.

The report, Law-abiding majority? The everyday crimes of the middle classes is based on research which found that 61 per cent had committed one of various offences including paying cash in hand to avoid taxation, keeping money when given too much change, wrongly using and swapping identity cards for their own gain and cheating in second-hand sales.

Based on a survey of 1,807 people in England and Wales aged between 25 and 65, the research by Professor Susanne Karstedt and Dr Stephen Farrall of Keele University found that:

Of those who admitted to an offence nearly two thirds (62 per cent) committed up to three and 10 per cent admitted nine or more offences.

The research also examined levels of victimization amongst the sample and found that eight out of ten (82 per cent) felt they had been victims of crimes or shady practices such as being sold poor quality pre-packed food, having items added to bills, being sold holiday packages that did not deliver and being cheated in second-hand sales.

According to the research both offenders and victims are mostly `average citizens' with high level offenders/victims coming from the middle classes and the `respectable'.

The report concludes that `The "law-abiding majority" which politicians like to address, is a chimera.... The law-abiding majority not only do not abide by the law, they also do not believe in the value of laws and rules, shrugging them off in pursuit of their interests and desires. They even regard law-abidingness as a disadvantage.'

An embargoed copy of Law-abiding majority? The everyday crimes of the middle classes by Professor Susanne Karstedt and Dr Stephen Farrall is available here.

Speaking today, Professor Susanne Karstedt, said:

`Contempt for the law is as widespread in the centre of society as it is assumed to be rampant at the margins and amongst specific marginal groups. Anti-social behaviour by the few is mirrored by anti-civil behaviour by the many. Neither greed nor need can explain why respectable citizens cheat on insurance claims or in second hand sales, and do not hesitate to discuss their exploits with friends in pubs.'

Dr Stephen Farrall said:

`What we find in our research is a strong tendency amongst consumers to "hit back" when they feel treated unfairly by big and small business, even by illegal means. More important however, are selfish attitudes: these are responsible for consumers exploiting illegal opportunities whenever these offer themselves. It is the values and the behaviour of those at the centre of society that are indicative of the moral state of our society, perhaps much more so than violent and other street crimes.'

The director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, Richard Garside, said:
`Politicians from across the political spectrum regularly claim that most crime is committed by a hard core of offenders, largely drawn from low income groups. This research demonstrates that volume crime is far more widespread, with the middle class being responsible for a wide range of illegal activities. The reasons for this are complex, and relate to the fundamental social changes in British society over the past thirty years.'

To arrange interviews with the authors or further information contact:

Will McMahon: 020 7848 1695 or 07968 950 223

Enver Solomon 020 7848 1997 or 07939 221 381

Notes to editors:

  1. The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College London is an independent charity that informs and educates about all aspects of crime and criminal justice. We provide information, produce research and carry out policy analysis to encourage and facilitate an understanding of the complex nature of issues concerning crime.
  2. Law-abiding majority? The everyday crimes of the middle classes by Professor Susanne Karstedt and Dr Stephen Farrall is published as part of the Crime and Society project, a policy development project of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. It aims to stimulate debate about the limitations of criminal justice and promote alternative perspectives on social harm, crime and social policy.
  3. The views expressed in the report are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies.
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