Comment: When did we stop worrying about crime?

By Joe Hitchcock

Campaigning around the general election was dominated by three topics; the NHS, the economy and immigration.  But where was crime? In April 2010 Crime was third in the list of the most important issues facing Britain. By April 2015, our data showed it had dropped to 11th and the number of us in Britain thinking it is an important issue had halved. Crime was mentioned by just ten per cent of people, the lowest percentage since October 1992.

Ipsos MORI's Winter 2014 MPs' survey showed that just 14% of MPs said crime/law and order was the subject they receive the most letters about in their post bag.  This compares to 64% who identified the NHS – the same proportion as noted correspondence on housing or benefits.  In fact, crime-related issues came 24th in the list, continuing its diminishing share of MPs' postbags since the coalition government came to power in May 2010.

When MPs were asked which issues they think will be very important in helping people decide which party to vote for a fifth (22%) cited 'crime, justice and policing', but this paled in comparison to the 87% who said 'managing the economy' and 78% who predicted 'asylum and immigration'.

Of course these measures must be taken in context and will reflect, in part, crime being offset by concerns around the economy and employment in recession and post-recession years. That said, the general theme of a reduction of concern mirrors the trends in the crime survey of England and Wales, which shows continuing decline in crime rates and a steady drop in the numbers of people across the country highlighting anti-social behaviour as a problem in their local areas. 

Does this mean an end for crime as a political point-scoring issue? Our political monitor in April 2015 asked which party had the best policies on crime and anti-social behaviour. The Conservatives at 28% had a seven-point lead over Labour, and so on this issue they were the winners.  This is still a key battleground this parliament, with decisions looming on whether to press on with continued cuts to police funding.  At this point in time, the figures suggest that the public and the press will not object too loudly. But for how long? 

Joe Hitchcock  is research executive at Ipsos MORI's Social Research Institute.

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