Investigating England’s ‘Burglary Belt’
In one of our previous blog posts we mapped the burglary rate throughout England and Wales by council area. Our research showed that there were abnormally high rates stretching across the northern cities: from Hull in the east across to Liverpool in the west. Indeed, four cities in this area feature in the top five most burgled councils.
What’s caused this “burglary belt” to form across England? What do these areas have in common that could shed some light on how we can tackle burglary throughout the country?
Are universities to blame?
Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Leeds and Sheffield have the biggest student populations in England outside of London. What effect does this have on burglary rate?
One common characteristic of university towns is that there are large numbers of people moving in and out of the city each school term. According to a study into the burglary rate in Leeds this can provide an easier target for burglars.
One reason for this is that students tend to live in large groups, with each owning a number of expensive devices, such as laptops, games consoles and tablets. Another is the security of accommodation. Students are vulnerable because they’re often living away from home for the first time, and may not secure the property as well as adults. This is made worse by the often poor quality of rented student accommodation — a 2015 study by Shelter found that 71% of students said they had experienced at least one issue with their property over the past year.
The below maps compare the burglary rate in England & Wales with the percentage change in population in and out of term time.
We can see there is some correlation — areas with the biggest percentage change tend to have higher burglary rates. This includes cities in our ‘belt’ such as Sheffield, Leeds and Liverpool.
However, there are also many areas where this correlation does not exist, most notably in rural Wales, where there are some of the highest fluctuations in population, but the lowest burglary rates. So there are clearly other factors also at play.
Is poverty to blame?
According to a 2014 study by Leeds Metropolitan University, people living in poor areas are more likely to be both the victims and perpetrators of crime. This is due to a combination of unemployment – which often traps people in a cycle of crime, punishment and re-offending – and the inability for victims to properly secure their houses due to lack of funds.
The below maps compare the burglary rate in England & Wales with gross value added (GVA) per head — a useful way to measure the economic prosperity of different regions.
Comparing the two maps we can see that many areas across the ‘belt’ fall into the two lowest categories of GVA per head. Indeed, the belt cities of Bradford, Hull and Sheffield all feature in the 10 UK cities with the lowest scores.
However, again we see that this isn’t black and white. There are poor areas of the country where the burglary rate is low and, especially along the burglary belt, rich areas where the burglary rate is high. So there must be other factors at play.
To find out what these are we must go back to the 80s when the UK’s economy changed forever under Margaret Thatcher. Her decision to stop supporting UK industry meant the factory powerhouses of the North rapidly shut down, leaving millions unemployed. The country’s wealth then shifted to the South, with London becoming the new focus for international business.
Mass unemployment in the North led to more and more people not being able to afford to rent or buy a home, meaning an unprecedented number of northerners in our ‘belt’ were forced into social housing. Along with this came an increased concentration in crime.
Today, the economies of the northern cities have improved — however, this may have only made things worse. Due to the recession and austerity, cities like Leeds now have a huge gap between the rich and the poor. For example, over 15% of residents in deprived areas such as Holbeck are on Jobseekers’ Allowance, whilst the figure is as low as 0.2% in richer areas like Weetwood. Studies have shown that these conditions result in particularly high levels of crime.
What can be done?
It’s impossible for individual people to do much about the economic factors that promote burglary. However, we can work with our families and communities to make our homes and neighbourhoods safer places to live.
First, wise up on burglary rates in your area. A good place to start is our crime map, which allows you to search your postcode to see nearby reported crimes.
If burglary is a problem in your area then check ourwatch.org.uk to see if there’s a local neighbourhood watch scheme. One criticism of these schemes is that they often don’t exist in high crime areas, so if you can’t find a nearby scheme, then set one up yourself!