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Are we starting to see a return in ‘traditional’ crime?



Harvey Redgrave, Chief Executive Officer

Thursday 20 July 2023

For years we have marvelled at the fact that so-called 'traditional' crimes, like burglary, car theft and shoplifting appear to be on an inexorable downward trajectory, responsible for pushing down the total volume of crime by 78 per cent since 1995. There are signs in today’s crime stats that we may no longer be able to take that for granted.

What criminologists call ‘acquisitive crimes’ have - according to police recorded figures - risen over the last year, though it should be pointed out that they have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels. Since March 2022, the ONS record:

  • a 4 per cent rise in burglary

  • a 13 per cent rise in vehicle related crime

  • a 15 per cent rise in theft (including a 24 per cent increase in shoplifting)

Figure 1. Burglary, shoplifting, and vehicle offences in England and Wales from 2010 to 2023

Source: Crime in England and Wales, Appendix tables - year ending March 2023

We can speculate as to the causes. For example, rises in burglary and shoplifting may be a function of the gradual drift back to more conventional working patterns following the pandemic, with fewer people working at home. Similarly, it may be that the spike in second hand car prices (partly caused by the restricted supply of new cars) is incentivising a rise in car theft, and there is a long established relationship between shoplifting and inflation. Whatever the actual drivers, the fact that all the major categories of acquisitive crime have risen over the last year will be a cause of concern to the government, particularly as we head closer to a general election, even if it is too soon to say yet whether this represents a clear trend.

Increases in crime are never good news but what makes this potentially more toxic for the government is that it comes at a time when the police have been criticised for deprioritising such offences. His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) has been vocal in calling out “basic errors” in the police’s response to burglary and car theft, with, for example, evidence from video doorbells capturing suspects being missed because the police lack digital forensic capacity and a failure to provide vulnerable victims with basic crime prevention advice.

Today’s figures confirm that just one in twenty five burglaries are solved. They also show that victims are suffering something of a postcode lottery - the rate of burglary is over four times as high in the North East as it is in the South West.

Figure 2. Rate of burglary incidents per 100,000 population by police force - year ending March 2023

Source: Crime in England and Wales, Appendix tables - year ending March 2023

Such a wide geographical spread in outcomes suggests there is a need for a more concerted push nationally to drive up standards in the way forces respond to and investigate such offences.

In recent years, there has perhaps been a tendency to underplay the impact of acquisitive crimes, particularly in the context of increases in more severe crimes, such as knife crime, robbery and sexual offences. That is a mistake. Families who are already struggling with a cost of living crisis certainly do not consider burglary and car theft to be minor crimes. As the Chief Inspector of Constabulary has said “they are crimes that strike at the heart of how safe people feel in their own homes or communities”. The time for government to respond is now, rather than waiting to see whether or not these increases turn into an entrenched trend.


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