Letter: Being unemployed does not necessarily lead to crime

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The Independent Online
Sir: Concluding that the escalating crime rate is due to a high level of unemployment is dangerous and unhelpful. The recent research by the Cambridge economist David Dickinson making this link should be treated with caution. However, no reasonable person would deny his point that 'unemployment may well erode those social restraints where they do exist'. The same observations apply to the leaked Home Office document, published in the Independent on 8 April.

David Lester, in an article published in Psychological Reports 1993, concluded from his research that 'from 1960-1988 the unemployment rate was negatively associated with crime rates in the USA'. Home Office Research Study 19, Trends in Crime and their Interpretation, 'failed to produce clear and consistent evidence of a relation between unemployment and crime'.

These conflicting conclusions suggest that it is unwise to make generalisations that unemployment is responsible for crime. It is as meaningless as blaming delinquency on an unhappy childhood; only a minority with emotionally deprived backgrounds turn to crime and the same applies to the vast majority of honest citizens who are unemployed. Offending is a matter of choice; criminals must accept personal responsibility for their decisions.

Many criminals do not want to take employment even if it were available. For most of them, crime pays very well, often producing an income of hundreds of pounds a week.

Between 1920 and 1930 there was a very serious unemployment problem in this country when benefits were limited and social survival was a struggle. Yet during that time the crime rate remained fairly constant.

It was a period in our history when a conviction for dishonesty was a matter of personal shame and public condemnation. Unemployment was no more responsible for crime then than it is today.

There has, however, been a change in public interpretation of right and wrong; the difference between them is now blurred. This can largely be attributed to the rejection of Christian standards and the confusion created by sociological theories.

It is the duty of the Government to maximise employment opportunities for all who are willing to work; it is the personal responsibility of offenders to stop committing crime. To confuse the two issues can be counterproductive.

Yours faithfully

PETER COAD

Stoke Bishop, Bristol

9 April

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