Since the 1990s, a dramatic decline in crime levels has been observed across many developed countries. Research examining the crime drop shows that, within cities, there is significant variation in absolute crime trends over time at the local neighbourhood level. At the same time, crime continues to be heavily concentrated in particular places within cities, and inequality in exposure to crime has been shown to be associated with patterns of deprivation. However, measuring absolute crime trends in neighbourhoods without considering their performance in comparison with other neighbourhoods neglects the relational implications of crime inequality. Relative inequalities matter because they are associated with individual wellbeing and a range of social outcomes. As part of research examining the patterns and drivers of inequalities in exposure to crime, we developed a methodology to assess long-term inequality in the exposure to crime. In this study, we examine how relative crime trajectories for the period 2007-2016 are associated with levels of deprivation in two large urban areas, Glasgow (Scotland) and Birmingham (England). Both cities suffer from high levels of deprivation and have experienced a significant reduction in crime levels, particularly Glasgow which experienced a noticeably larger crime drop over this period.
Is there an association between neighbourhood deprivation and relative inequality in exposure to crime?
In order to examine the association between neighbourhood deprivation and relative inequality in exposure to crime, we grouped neighbourhoods into three categories based on their crime trajectories relative to the city-wide trend. The first category comprises of the ‘winners’ – neighbourhoods whereby crime exposure has dropped at a faster rate than the citywide trend. The second category are the ‘losers’ – neighbourhoods whose crime exposure has either fallen at a slower rate, or indeed risen, in relation to the citywide trend. In the third category, are neighbourhoods that belong neither to the ‘winners’ nor the ‘losers’. They represent neighbourhoods that have performed in alignment with the citywide trend.
In Figure 1, we combine information about the three neighbourhood categories with their associated levels of deprivation, to illustrate the relationship between relative crime inequality and deprivation. We measure the level of deprivation across neighbourhoods using the Townsend Index, a commonly used measure of relative deprivation calculated by combining four census variables. There are two key findings. Firstly, as neighbourhoods become more deprived, they are less likely to experience crime stability over time. In other words, there is more crime volatility in more deprived neighbourhoods compared to affluent neighbourhoods. This pattern is uniform across both cities and for both property and violent crime. Secondly, the most deprived neighbourhoods are more likely to be both winners and losers of the crime drop. In Birmingham we observe a slightly different pattern for property crime: the least deprived appear to have lost out more from the crime drop than the most deprived. This finding further emphasises the greater volatility in criminal activity in the most deprived neighbourhoods.
Figure 1. Neighbourhood deprivation and relative inequality in exposure to crime
Has relative inequality in the exposure to crime between the affluent and the poor widened or narrowed over time?
The difference in relative inequality in the exposure to crime over time between the affluent and the poor can be seen more clearly in the longitudinal plot shown in Figure 2. Here, we compare the inequality in the exposure to crime over time between affluent and poor neighbourhoods, in relative terms (green lines) and in absolute terms (blue lines).
In Glasgow, inequality in the exposure to crime, between the least and the most deprived neighbourhoods has narrowed in absolute terms but has widened in relative terms. This is indicated by the converging blue lines and diverging green lines shown in the top two panels. In Birmingham, a similar pattern is observed for violent crime (bottom right panel). However, inequality in exposure to property crime, in both absolute and relative terms, has narrowed over time. This appears to conform to the patterns shown in Figure 1.
Figure 2. Absolute and relative crime trend between the least deprived and the most deprived neighbourhoods.
These results demonstrate that examining both absolute and relative crime trajectories is crucial for gaining insights into how inequality in exposure to crime has changed over time. Crime performance in a neighbourhood might have improved in absolute terms, but it might have worsened in relation to neighbourhoods elsewhere in the city, such as the example of Glasgow (Figure 2, top panel).
Where are the winners and losers of the crime drop?
From Figure 3, it can be seen that the majority of neighbourhoods have experienced stable relative trajectories over time. However, many neighbourhoods have either disproportionately benefitted (i.e. the winners) or lost out (i.e. the losers) from the crime drop. There is evidence of spatial clustering amongst the winners and the losers in both Glasgow and Birmingham. For both crime types, a greater proportion of the winners can be found in and around the city centres. In contrast, multiple clusters of the losers can be found in the suburbs of the cities. In Glasgow, for property crime, these clusters are mostly found in the eastern and western regions, whilst for violent crime, they can be found to the east of the city.
In Birmingham, for property crime, the losers cluster in the northern and southern regions. In contrast, for violent crime, they are less clustered and found across different parts of the city.
Figure 3. Spatial patterning of relative inequality in the exposure to crime in Glasgow and Birmingham between 2007 to 2016
In conclusion, our analysis shows that the level of neighbourhood deprivation holds a close association with the relative inequality in the exposure to crime and the way it has changed over time in both cities. However, the city of Glasgow shows a more consistent association between neighbourhood deprivation and relative crime inequality.
The observed spatial patterning of the winners and losers of the crime drop which shows that neighbourhoods in and around the city centres have benefitted disproportionately from the crime drop echoes Understanding Inequalities project findings documenting a process of suburbanisation of poverty impacting on inequality. The dispersal of poverty away from urban city centres has been shown to exhibit an association with changes in the spatial patterns of crime, signalling a potential shift in offender populations and/or criminal opportunities, away from the city centre towards the city suburbs. The identification of winners and losers of the crime drop is important because it can help inform the design of effective and equitable local crime interventions and resource deployment within cities.
Given that the scale and pattern of change of neighbourhood inequality in exposure to crime vary across cities, it is necessary that future research examines how local contexts might be mediating the wider global trends. To this end, we are examining shifting inequalities in exposure to crime in multiple country and city contexts which have experienced a fall in crime during the same period.