LETTER:New thinking on crime

THE WIDE coverage of our book on trends in psychosocial disorders is gratifying and Nick Cohen ("What causes crime?", 4 June) usefully restates the doctrine from which we dissent: that the increase during the last 50 years of crime, suicide, depression and the abuse of alcohol and drugs has been caused by poverty and unemployment.

Three key points are relevant. First, the rise in psychosocial disorders was marked during the "golden era" between 1950 and 1970 when there was low unemployment, improved living standards and a reduction in the gap between the rich and poor. Crime rose markedly but poverty fell. Second, the rise in psycho-social disorders during the last 50 years does not just apply to crime and includes those which occur with roughly comparable frequency in all social groups. The rise in both sorts of disorder has to be explained. Third, we asked why the overall level of disorder had risen, and not the quite different question of individual differences in risk.

Sir Michael Rutter

Institute of Psychiatry

David Smith

University of Edinburgh