Being admitted to hospital for a dog bite is three times more likely if you live in deprived areas of Merseyside, Durham, Darlington and Tees and West Yorkshire than the rest of the country, according to a new report.
The major new study from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) shows that hospital admissions for dog bites and strikes, as well as bites from other mammals including cats, foxes and horses, were up to three times higher than the national average in deprived areas of England.
According to the report, statistics for dog bites and strikes were 24.1 per 100,000 hospital admissions in poor areas, compared to just 8.1 per cent per 100,000 admissions in the most affluent areas of the country.
However Dr Simon Harding, a lecturer in criminology at the University of Middlesex and author of Unleashed: The Phenomena of Status Dogs and Weapons Dogs, said he wasn’t “surprised” by the figures.
He said, “Deprived areas are often more populous with larger families, more children, more pets and more people living in closer proximity to each other and dogs. Also dogs tend to be exercised in public, rather than in gardens or remote fields.
“At the same time people in poorer areas use dogs for protection, instead of alarms or house insurance and there is an underlying trend towards the use of aggressive Pit Bull-type breeds as weapon or status dogs.”
According to the HSCIC report there were 1,240 admissions to hospital for bites and strikes in the 10 per cent most deprived areas out of total figures of 9,710 admissions across the country – an increase of over seven per cent on the previous 12 months.
Worryingly for campaigners the figures, for the year to January 2014, also show that children suffer most from dog bites, with more injuries to their head than any other age group.
Dr Harding noted with concern that “plastic surgery was the most common treatment for all age groups”, suggesting “more serious attacks with associated tissue loss, rather than smaller, less serious, puncture wounds.”
He added: “The data doesn’t indicate what sort of dog has bitten, this information isn’t held by health authorities and it should be… We are facing more abandoned dogs and rescue dogs, who tend to be Staffordshire Bull Terror and more aggressive breeds.”
Luciana Berger MP, who has been campaigning for a clampdown on dangerous dogs since a four-year-old boy in her Liverpool Wavertree constituents was killed by a dog in 2009, said the figures were “alarming” and showed the “threat dangerous dogs pose”.
She said: “The Government has taken too long to tackle this problem and the measures they are introducing do not go far enough to stop dog attacks from happening in the first place.”
The MP also said that the Government “must focus on prevention” and ensure “that ensure that tragedies such as the death of four-year-old John Paul Massey, who was mauled to death in my constituency, do not continue to happen.”
Despite calls from some quarters for a reform of the Dangerous Dogs Act Caroline Kisko, the secretary of the Kennel Club, said that further dog bans were not the answer and that “better education of children” was the way forward.
She added: “There is a danger of classifying dogs like Pit Bulls as the devil dogs. This is such a dangerous concept as it says to people that all the other types of dogs are safe, which is clearly untrue. All dogs can cause injury, just like we can, but it’s not to do with their breed.”
The new figures for England come after dog attacks in Scotland which left victims requiring hospital treatment have doubled in the past 15 years, while in Wales dog attacks have risen 81per cent in the last ten years.
A Defra spokesperson said: “We took action to toughen up the law as quickly as possible. As of next month, anyone who owns a dangerous dog can be brought to justice, regardless of where an attack takes place.
“We’ve also increased the maximum sentences for dog attacks and we’re giving local authorities and the police new powers to intervene early before a dog attack occurs.”