Wednesday 25 May 2022
Crest Analyst Ellen Kirk was investigating connections between an area’s crime levels and its sense of community when she came across some puzzling data for a region in Lincolnshire.
Every town and city in England has its own culture, history and geography that make it distinct from others nearby. But researchers have found that there is one common factor, above all others, that explains why levels of crime are higher in some areas than others: economic, or income, deprivation.
The puzzle is why that rule doesn't apply to East Lindsey, a local government district in Lincolnshire, which includes Skegness, on the North Sea coast, and the towns of Louth and Horncastle.
There is nothing particularly noteworthy about crime in East Lindsey. In the 12 months to the end of September 2021, police recorded 71 offences per 1,000 population. That’s not as high as neighbouring Lincoln, where there were 122 crimes for every 1,000 people, but not as low as North Kevesten, which had an offending rate of 37.
When you look at income deprivation, however, the results for East Lindsey are more striking. It's one of the poorest areas in England.
Deprivation is measured by the English Indices of Deprivation, which is published every four years by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. It ranks levels of deprivation across seven areas or domains: income, employment, health and disability, education, crime, barriers to housing and services, and living environment.
For each domain, a number of measurements are combined to give an overall score. For example, the crime deprivation rankings are produced by measuring rates of violence, burglary, theft and criminal damage per 1,000 people or properties. The domains are added together and weighted to produce the overall Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) which can be used to compare different parts of the country and to spot possible connections between the seven domains.
IMD analysis has helped show a link between high levels of crime in an area and income deprivation. That has been supported by evidence in London, which shows “that three-quarters of the boroughs in London with the highest levels of violent offending are also in the top ten most deprived”.
The strength of the correlation between income and crime is shown on the scatter chart, below. The closer the dots are to being on a 45° diagonal line, the more closely correlated the two domains are, suggesting that deprivation in one domain contributes to deprivation in the other, or that both are influenced by a separate third factor. But there’s no strong link for East Lindsey.
East Lindsey is the only local authority area with more than 200 points of difference between its deprivation rankings for income and crime deprivation. It’s the 42nd most income deprived area - but the 247th most deprived in terms of crime, demonstrating that income deprivation in an area does not automatically lead to high crime rates.
In addition to East Lindsey, the following local authorities had more than 180 points of difference between their two rankings:
Community - the missing factor?
Why does East Lindsey have such a low level of crime deprivation despite its comparatively high level of income deprivation? To answer that question it’s worth looking beyond the many factors measured by the IMD and think about what it doesn’t measure.
One possible factor is ‘community’. There is already some research to suggest that the quality of connections between people who live in an area can affect levels of crime, though that is not a topic that has been explored in great depth.
The elements that might contribute to a sense of community include: whether people feel pride about where they live; if residents feel they belong to their local area; and whether the views of local people are taken into account in civic decision-making. Other ways to measure ‘community’ could involve counting the number of green spaces in an area or how many cultural/religious/community groups and events there are. Calculating how easy it is to access information about support services on the council’s website would be another option.
But any research looking at the possible connection between the sense of community in an area and its crime levels would also need to account for income. Wealthier areas with higher levels of investment are often more pleasant places to live, so a correlation between residents’ satisfaction with their area and low crime rates could both be a product of income levels in the area.
To explore if there is a connection between community and crime levels that is independent of income levels, two groups of local authority areas would need to be analysed. The first group would be made up of local authority areas with high levels of income deprivation but low levels of crime deprivation (such as East Lindsey), while the second would consist of areas with high levels of income deprivation and also high levels of crime deprivation. That way we can control for the effect of income.
And if the results showed that the ‘level’ of community is significantly higher in the group with lower levels of crime deprivation than in the group with high rates of crime deprivation, that would suggest that community has a role in preventing crime. The implications of that are significant. Policymakers would have to place a greater emphasis on improving community satisfaction as a driver to reducing crime, such as funding local projects or giving residents a louder voice in shaping their community.
Perhaps ‘community’ is the reason why levels of crime in East Lindsey are lower than might be expected given its comparatively high levels of poverty. Perhaps the people of East Lindsey have a tightly-knit community which helps keep theft down. Perhaps a strong sense of civic pride means people in East Lindsey are less likely to commit criminal damage. Perhaps there is a wide variety of community groups in East Lindsey where people can build positive relationships with each other - leading to a reduction in violence.
These are hypotheses; we don’t yet know the answers. But further research might solve the puzzle of East Lindsey’s low crime rate - and help us find ways of cutting crime in other parts of the country.