Since late 2021, most people have experienced being massively hit in the pocket as a direct result of the cost-of-living crisis. For those living in the country’s most deprived areas where social exclusion and low income are established norms, it has become an even steeper uphill battle just to survive day to day.
Not surprisingly, within these communities, offending has become an option not just for the usual suspects, but now also for those who in the past had never given crime a single thought, but are now turning to it out of necessity.
Despite the considerable political rhetoric from both government ministers and Conservative backbench MPs who have attempted to try and calm the waters of despair, one of the main issues they have predictably neglected to discuss is the cost-of-living crisis and its impact on rising crime rates.
So far, no senior Tory figure or for that matter right-wing MP, has or would ever dare risk political suicide and discuss the connection between crime and poverty so publicly, let alone in the media arena. Yet despite the long silence around Westminster, with a recession looming, fuel poverty and food inflation continuing, and a decreasing workforce coupled with rises in chronic physical illness and mental distress, and you have all the ingredients for an inevitable surge in crime.
What do the stats tell us?
According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) – which is a face-to-face study and the natural go-to research for criminologists – so far, the cost-of-living crisis has not had a major impact on crime overall.
In fact, data taken from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) for the year ending 2022 indicated that compared to data taken from the year ending March 2020, crime was down by 12%. However, we must remember that the ONS draws on data of crimes officially recorded by the police and by CSEW, so it will exclude a lot of unreported crime that will and is occurring because of the present crisis – not to mention invisible crimes such as those carried out via computer and in the home.
So, what can we expect in terms of the types of crime? Here are just four areas of key concern.
The first timers
For first time novice offenders, inevitably electricity theft becomes one of the prime candidates. This involves attempting to alter the true recording of usage.
While the offence itself is not something new, it borders into old-school criminality; there have always been people who have tried to ‘fiddle’ the meter, and it remains highly dangerous. Today, with the prospect of large bills coming through the letterbox and news stories highlighting corporate profitability to rub further salt in the proverbial wounds, the potentially life-threatening risk will in the eyes of many be an acceptable one .
Electricity theft in England and Wales increased by 13% between 2021 and 2022, and with energy prices remaining at an all-time high, we can expect a further dramatic increase in this statistic.
Another tried-and-tested offence for the criminal apprentice, shoplifting will also increase its slice of the pie chart. With food prices accelerating, we are already seeing some supermarket chains increasing security on what was once seen as ordinary everyday items of little value, but a necessity for most, things like toiletries, butter, and coffee.
One concerning example which best illustrates the financial desperation that some are finding themselves in is retail chain stores such as Co-Op which have started placing baby formula behind tills to prevent theft. Other shops have even taken to ‘locking’ the baby milk up with security boxes or tags.
Over the last 20 years, the main story surrounding young people and crime has centred on gangs. As someone who has written widely on the topic of gang recruitment and its link with inequality and poverty, it is of no surprise to see young people resorting to crime and in many instances, violent crime in groups.
In August last year, London mayor Sadiq Khan, still one of the only public figures to mention the cost-of-living crisis and crime in the same breath, gave a stark warning, that violent gang crime will increase. This was reinforced by a Sky News report highlighting the exploitation of children as young as nine resorting to dealing drugs to support their families.
“Gang violence still accounts for too much of the most serious violence in London and I am concerned about a potential increase in violence this summer as the cost-of-living crisis deepens and threatens to reverse the progress we have made in tackling violent crime.”Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London)
Moreover, beyond the capital, my research has picked-up observations of parents having been offered money to pay Sky bills in return for their children being used as drug mules.
During the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, the domestic abuse charity Refuge recorded a monthly average of 13,162 calls and messages to its helpline between April 2020 and February 2021. The forms of abuse reported ranged from violence and psychological abuse to death threats. Sadly, 99% of domestic abuse includes financial abuse or deliberate deprivation of funds to control.
We can expect to hear about more cases involving victims unable to leave abusive relationships for fear of being rendered completely destitute. Already, refuges that provide sanctuary and support for victims of domestic violence are coming under considerable pressure with referral lines having had a 30% increase in accommodation requests at the start of 2022 with forecasts expected to get worse before they get better.
“The cost of living crisis is having a detrimental impact on those experiencing domestic abuse. Families are coming under significant strain. We need to act quickly and we need to act now.”Pat Ryan (Hestia’s chief executive)
Financial insurance fraud and scams
Like shoplifting, financial insurance fraud is not a new crime, in fact, it can be traced back to Greece to the year 300BC with people submitting false claims most commonly for an ‘allegedly’ stolen item or items. Since the onset of the cost-of-living crisis, there have been noticeable rises in this offence.
Concerningly, a new fraud has started to emerge, with the so called ‘cash-for-crash’ scam involving moped riders who deliberately drive head-first into the front of on-coming cars. Sky News have reported that the scam has already claimed thousands of victims.
One of the UK’s biggest insurance companies Zurich UK, reported that from 1 January to 31 May 2022 there was a sharp 25% increase in false property claims than in the same period in 2021. To put this into real cash terms, that’s £4.2mn compared to £3.3mn in 2021. With this crime, many offenders perceive this as a worthy gamble because of the predominantly online nature of the scam as opposed to face-to-face theft.
There is also the element of what psychologists call moral disengagement which will further add to the motivation, since the victims are typically large multi-million-pound companies who are seen as being able to afford the loss as opposed to a single individual.
Where other scams are concerned, these are taking different forms. The early type came under the category of 419 scam baiting or phishing emails aimed at obtaining personal details, these would offer the recipient a commission if they were willing to hold a large amount of inherited money for a period in their bank account. They were called 419 scams since they mostly originated from Nigeria, Africa and 419 is the section in the penal code that made them illegal.
Today, online scams have become a lot more sophisticated and extremely difficult for the most vulnerable groups such as the elderly and less tech-savvy to spot.
Research by Citizens Advice has shown a 14% increase in people falling victim to scams in the form of emails, cold calls, and texts. Such messages pose as energy suppliers offering cheaper deals or HMRC with tax rebate claims. In one particular cruel phone text/WhatsApp scam, the message takes the form of a family member asking for bills to be paid via a link inserted into the text.
Only time will tell
These are just some of the common forms of crime that are starting to emerge as the cost-of-living crisis continues, add to this, rural crime, that is, fuel of theft and agricultural vehicles, and potential increases in women having to resort to dangerous sex work to make ends meet and we can see how frantic people at the lower end of the economy are becoming.
Time will only tell what the increasing impact of such desperate action will be and exactly how a government so oblivious to the issue will attempt to deal with it.
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