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Is crime in Glasgow following poverty and dispersing to the suburbs?

Kitty Lymperopoulou and Jon Bannister
Scotland, like other Western societies, has experienced a sustained crime drop. Police recorded crime statistics (Scottish Government, 2019) show a 57% fall in crime since the early 1990’s. Glasgow, once notorious as the “murder capital of Europe”, is now seen to be driving Scotland’s recent dramatic reduction in violent crime (BBC Scotland, 2019). The number of violent crime offences in Greater Glasgow halved between 2002 and 2015, while violent crime offences fell by a third. A variety of reasons have been put forward to explain the crime drop at the national level. These include technological (security) improvements, a stronger economy and more efficient police activity, as well as the failure to measure new (cyber) types of crime, though it is fair to say that there is considerable debate about the plausibility of these explanations.
Yet, what about the crime drop at the local level? While national crime rates have been steadily falling, new evidence shows that the crime drop has not been shared equally across communities in Glasgow (Bannister et al, 2019). The poorest communities continue to bear a disproportionate burden of exposure to crime. The association between poverty and crime is long established and is argued to undermine social organisation within communities, leading to the breakdown of informal social control and consequently higher rates of crime.
Examining crime at the neighbourhood level in Glasgow, the highest crime rates are found in neighbourhoods with the highest poverty levels. In 2015, for example, the average violent crime rate in the poorest (by income decile) neighbourhoods of Greater Glasgow was 8 times higher than in the wealthiest neighbourhoods (Figure 1b). Similarly, the property crime rate was 2.5 times higher in the poorest neighbourhoods in comparison to the wealthiest neighbourhoods (Figure 1a).  In the period 2002-2015, the gap in crime rates between the poorest 10% and the remaining 90% of neighbourhoods was stable, despite crime rates dropping across all poverty deciles. In absolute terms, the largest reductions in crime rates were in neighbourhoods in the most deprived deciles. In relative terms, however, the largest reductions in crime were observed in both most and least deprived deciles.
Figure 1: Average crime rates in neighbourhoods (datazones) in Greater Glasgow by poverty decile in 2002 and 2015
                         a) Property crime                                                                       (b) Violent crime
Bar charts comparing property and violent crime rates per 1,000 population at risk over income poverty decile in years 2002 and 2015
Historically, in Western Europe and in the United States, neighbourhoods with the highest levels of poverty (and crime) have tended to cluster in the inner city, with the wealthiest neighbourhoods on the outskirts (or suburbs) of cities. However, and in recent decades, there has been suburbanisation of poverty in cities (Bailey and Minton, 2018). Glasgow is no exception to this phenomenon.
The Relative Centralisation Index (RCI) measures the extent to which the poor tend to live closer to (or further away from) an urban centre relative to the non-poor. The RCI score ranges from -1 to 1, with values greater than zero indicating that the poor (relative to the non-poor) are more likely to be concentrated in neighbourhoods closer to the city centre. In 2002, poverty was ‘relatively’ centralised in Greater Glasgow (Figure 2a).  In other words, the poor were more likely to be concentrated nearer the city centre compared to the non-poor. However, by 2015 poverty was less centralised, indicating a dispersal of poorer households away from the centre of Glasgow.
Figure 2: (a) The relative Centralisation Index (RCI) and (b) Index of Dissimilarity (ID) 2002-2015
                          (a) RCI                                                                                                     (b) ID
In a similar fashion, the Index of Dissimilarity, which indicates the “evenness” with which the income poor and non-poor are distributed across areas within Greater Glasgow has also changed over time (Figure 2b). In 2015, Glasgow had moderate levels of residential segregation by poverty. Levels of segregation by income (but not in terms of employment) were lower in 2015 in comparison to 2002. In other words, neighbourhoods have become more mixed, socio-economically.
What about the association between the suburbanisation of poverty and crime?
Using both data on recorded offences for the period 2002-15 (provided by Police Scotland) and the Scottish Indices of Deprivation, our research sought to explore the impact of the spatial re-ordering of poverty on violent and property crime. Our analysis found similarities between the changing spatial pattern of poverty (Figure 3a) and of crime over time, with the share of both violent and property crime in neighbourhoods closest to the city centre decreasing (Figure 3b), whilst increasing in the areas furthest away from the city centre. In overview, the spatial re-ordering of crime appears to mirror the spatial reordering of poverty (Figure 3b). Whilst crime exhibited greatest decline in the neighbourhoods closest to the city centre, the areas furthest away showed little change.  This suggests that the gap in crime rates between neighbourhoods in the urban core and the periphery of Glasgow has narrowed over time.

Figure 3: Changes in crime and poverty by distance to the city centre 2002-15
a) poverty

 Figure showing the change in share of poor 2002-15 and distance to city centreFigure showing the % change in share of poor 2002-15 and distance to city centre

b) crime

Figure showing the change in share of crime 2002-15 and distance to city centre           Figure showing the change in crime rate per 1,000 pop at risk 2002-15 and distance to city centre

Glasgow is not the only city where we see crime falling in line with the decline of poverty and finding distinct spatial expression. Our research has found similar trends to be evident in Birmingham.

What does this mean for inequality in exposure to crime? 
At first glance, the fall in crime may seem to be a perverse consequence of the suburbanisation of poverty. Housing renewal and gentrification, which are among the main explanations for the de-concentration of poverty in UK cities, should be expected to lead to reductions in neighbourhood crime in these areas in the long-term. Another implication may be that the empirical association between poverty and crime has weakened over time. Our analysis shows that the relationship between poverty and property crime at the neighbourhood level is relatively weak, and the strength of this association has declined over time. In contrast, there remains a strong association between poverty and violent crime. This indicates that there are long-lasting inequalities in exposure to violent crime across communities with different poverty levels but the spatial distribution of inequality has changed over time.
What is certain is that crime, just like poverty, can no longer be seen as primarily an inner-city problem. 

This raises questions about whether existing theories of social disorganisation and crime opportunity grounded in urban neighbourhood dynamics adequately explain spatial variations in crime. In light of the spatial reordering of poverty, future studies will need to re-examine the mechanisms underlying the relationship between community poverty and crime. 

For more information about this research, please email Dr Kitty Lymperopoulou
Bailey, N. and Minton, J. (2018) The suburbanisation of poverty in British cities, 2004-16: extent, processes and nature. Urban Geography, 39(6), pp 892-915, DOI: 10.1080/02723638.2017.1405689