Deborah Orr: These 'tough times' have little to do with crime in this country

Those who argue that Britain is no more violent should modify their views
Click to follow
The Independent Online

For those of us who have weathered a few recessions, it's hardly a surprise. But new government figures confirm that there has been a rise in crime during this newly minted recession, with burglaries up 4 per cent and fraud and forgery up 16 per cent. Robberies at knifepoint were up by 18 per cent, to 4,207.

It's no consolation to those who have endured the terror of the last crime, but it's still worth bearing in mind that 4,207 is a relatively small number, especially compared with burglaries, which stood at 69,000 between July and September last year.

We've been spared the release of the figures for the most serious of violent crimes, because, the Government says, it wants them to be substantiated by the national statistician, Karen Dunnell, before we get to hear about them. Maybe Dunnell is going to emerge from behind her spreadsheets as the bearer of glad tidings.

The figures on violence against the person are down, after all, as are those on violence against the person with injury. The sneaking suspicion, however, is that if the news was good, then the Government would not be so keen to put it off.

The crime figures have been something of a mystery for some years now, with statistics seemingly disproving the idea one gets from the media – and, for me anyway, from the general situation locally – that the violent crimes being carried out by a scarily unrepentant minority are becoming more vicious and more petty.

Last year's discovery that 18 police forces had been miscounting some of the most violent crimes – mainly grievous bodily harm with intent – as minor incidents went some way to explaining why that disjunction between popular perception and the official line had been happening.

Another recent Home Office report confirmed that in 2007-08 there had been more knife murders – 270 out of 773 – than had been recorded since records began in 1997. It was also confirmed this week that the number of children killed by their parents went up by almost a quarter on the year before in 2007-08. Those who argue that Britain is no more violent than it ever was really need to start modifying their views.

Jacqui Smith has said: "There will be a small minority of criminals who think they can take advantage in tough times. Let me tell them now, they can't and they won't." It's a supremely silly thing to say.

Two different things are going on here. The increase in violent crime had already been occurring during the boom, and indicated an increase in pathological behaviour. This is a social problem, a serious one, and one that the Government has long been in denial about.

The kind of crime that increases because of economic hardship is crime born of the desire for economic gain. It's sometimes the sort of thing that even normally law-abiding people unfortunately are tempted to be drawn into when they find themselves unemployed, or short of cash, and desperate. It is anti-social behaviour but it is also tied to wider circumstances. The behaviour is modified when personal circumstances improve. It's hardly "taking advantage in tough times".

The crimes we should be most concerned about – violent crime in families, or by very young people against each other – are tied much more closely to extremely catastrophic failures of parenting in communities where deprivation has become endemic, because no other way of life has been known through generations.

Those people are not "taking advantage in tough times" either. Times for them have been tough all along, often from the very beginnings of their lives. It's important to remember that even during the boom, Britain was experiencing the unpleasant consequences of deep-seated social problems that had remained unresolved though the recessions of the 1980s and the 1990s. The last thing we need is to emerge from this latest recession with those long-term problems even more strongly embedded.

Recessions do cause crime, and it is worth noting that the link between economic hardship and wrongdoing is being graphically illustrated right now, even though many argue that the link is not valid. But when recessions end and sections of the population are left marooned during times of plenty, criminality can become normalised, the result of layers of neglect, abuse, ignorance and want passed down from parent to child. That, not the short-term crime wave inspired by the present downturn, is still the sociological problem that should worry us the most.

See? The natural look can work in Hollywood

When Oprah Winfrey speaks, the world listens. So it was lovely that she chose to praise Kate Winslet (above, in her Oscar-nominated film 'The Reader') so very highly on a recent show, if only for the marvellous naturalistic acting ability of her breasts. They actually part when she lies down, which is now a novel thing for actorly breasts to do.

Yet it appears that natural breasts have already made something of a comeback, even without Oprah's endorsement. There's not a great deal of good news to be gleaned from the "worldwide global downturn". But reports from the US suggest that there has been a sudden and steep decline in demand for cosmetic surgery, particularly implant insertion. Inflation really is yesterday's problem.

It should also be noted as well, though, that Winslet is one of just a few Hollywood actresses who gets a little wrinkle or two in her brow when she's angry or annoyed. No wonder the woman is winning more awards than she can cope with. Who can compete?

When it comes to Israel, the BBC falls in

The BBC appears to have decided that Tzipi Livni is right. Israel's foreign affairs minister (pictured), in contrast to pretty much every relief organisation, has claimed that "there's no humanitarian crisis in Gaza". The BBC has obligingly refused to broadcast a fundraising appeal for the shattered territory because "it doesn't want to risk compromising public confidence in its impartiality".

Maybe the BBC falls in line with some further impartial statements that Livni, the leader of Kadima, has made. She reckons the Israeli Defence Force "going wild" in Gaza during the recent attack was "a good thing" and also says that if a two-state solution were to be achieved, then she would expect Arab-Israelis to pack up and leave. Not that she's racist.

Oh, and that fragile ceasefire? It's already been broken. Hamas agreed to the ceasefire on condition that the Israeli blockade was eased or lifted. A senior adviser to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has already made it known that this simply isn't going to happen. Hopeless.

The rejected appeal broadcast was intended to raise money to help all those in Gaza without homes, food or water. After an 18-month blockade and 22 days of the IDF "going wild", you'd have to be as "impartial" as stone to believe it was controversial to suggest that some of the 1.5 million people in Gaza might be in need of some help. The BBC is being sensitive to the amour propre of the wrong people.

*Not that this is so terribly unusual. Tom Cruise said he would come on BBC star Jonathan Ross's out-of-purdah show last night only if Ross liked his widely derided new film, Valkyrie, and didn't talk about scientology. I think we all know exactly what Ross should have told Cruise he should do.

If the leap in the number of children killed by their parents wasn't dreadful enough, Karen Matthews was sentenced yesterday. Her case is a reminder that some children grow up in terrible circumstances and aren't rescued unless their parents step out of line in a spectacular way – conspiring to abduct them, weeping for the cameras when they know they are locked in a flat down the road, that sort of thing.

Another mother walked free from court yesterday, having committed the minor solecism of letting her three-year-old smoke. Social workers say she has learned enough from parenting classes to continue being his primary carer. It's clear where the bar is set for unfit parenting, and it is not dizzyingly high.