The riddle of peacefulness

Policeman hands out balloons in Manchester

The UK Peace Index, published on Tuesday, attempts to answer a fascinating question: why has our country become "substantially and significantly" more peaceful?

Having set itself this conundrum, however, the UKPI - published by the Institute for Economics and Peace - cannot come up with a convincing answer, not least because the decrease in violence is not confined to Britain. In fact, a similar phenomenon can be seen in almost every developed nation.

The report notes that "there is no commonly accepted explanation by criminologists for the fall in violence in many of the world's regions including the US, Western Europe, Eastern and Central Europe, as well as the UK".

It goes on to admit that "many of the more common theories" refuse to stand up to scrutiny. The global financial crisis has seen many countries suffer severely in economic terms and yet levels of peacefulness have increased. The idea that violent crime goes up when the economy goes down is not backed by the evidence.

Do more police officers mean fewer acts of violence? "The result is seemingly counterintuitive," admits the peace index report. The correlation between policing levels and violent crime in the UK is "very weak", it concludes.

PDF download UK Peace Index [6.1MB]

Any specific relationship between police numbers and murder, gun crime or public disorder is "even weaker", the analysis finds. "This suggests that the reductions in police numbers have not played a significant role in either reducing or increasing crime."

The link between violent crime levels and criminal justice policy seems thin. After all, violence has fallen in most developed nations irrespective of their use of prisons, the severity of sentences or the activities of law enforcement officers.

% change in total recorded crime
Institute for Economics and Peace figures Source: Institute for Economics and Peace

The analysis searches for correlations between violence levels and other factors. Looking at the list of most and least peaceful local authorities, it is obvious that relatively prosperous rural areas are more peaceful than deprived urban areas.

Most peaceful in England and Wales

  1. Broadland, Norfolk
  2. Three Rivers, Hertfordshire
  3. South Cambridgeshire
  4. East Dorset
  5. Maldon, Essex

And least peaceful - all in London:

  1. Lewisham
  2. Lambeth
  3. Hackney
  4. Newham
  5. Tower Hamlets

The 17 most violent authorities in the UK are all London boroughs which contain pockets of extreme poverty, while the most peaceful places tend to be wealthier areas in the south and east of England.

The analysis concludes that "peace is strongly linked to deprivation in income, employment opportunities, health and disability, education and in access to housing and services". However, inequality does not seem to be such a strong correlate with violence.

"The disparity between income levels (the Gini coefficient), while still significant, has a much weaker correlation with peace than poverty'," the report notes.

This goes against a number of research papers which have suggested it is the gap between rich and poor that matters, rather than poverty itself, when it comes to public disorder and violent crime.

The researchers claim that when individuals and families live below a certain level of income and struggle to meet day-to-day needs, this "increases the chance of living in violent communities with anti-social behaviour".

Most peaceful in Scotland

  1. Orkney Islands
  2. Aberdeenshire
  3. Moray
  4. Shetland Islands
  5. Dumfries & Galloway

And least peaceful

  1. Glasgow City
  2. West Dunbartonshire
  3. Renfrewshire
  4. North Ayrshire
  5. Inverclyde

If this is correct, it would suggest that during tough economic times, one might expect to see violence levels rise. But as the report itself points out, this does not appear to be happening during the current downturn.

Perhaps it is too early for the impact to have fed through, but I do wonder whether the analysis is focusing on traditional social and criminal justice theories when the answer to the quite remarkable drop in violence may lie somewhere else entirely.

If one accepts that this phenomenon is affecting developed nations across the planet irrespective of their domestic policies, it seems logical that we are seeing the consequence of a global effect.

Could it be that global communication, particularly the internet, is having a civilising and calming effect on people's behaviour? We live in an age when, for the first time in history, people from all backgrounds can get an understanding of how the rest of the world lives without needing to leave the comfort of their living room.

This mass socialising may be changing attitudes. In the UK there is good evidence that people are becoming more tolerant of difference and less tolerant of violence.

Most peaceful in Northern Ireland

  1. Castlereagh
  2. Ballymoney
  3. Magherafelt
  4. Armagh
  5. Moyle

And least peaceful

  1. Belfast
  2. Foyle
  3. Coleraine
  4. Cookstown
  5. Antrim

Behaviour that may once have been accepted with a sad shrug now demands a political response. Attitudes towards domestic violence, child abuse and drunken aggression have changed enormously in the past few decades, both at an administrative and social level.

It will be interesting to see, for example, how the international outrage at the rape and sexual abuse of some women in India affects behaviour in the sub-continent. In the UK, scandals around historic acts of violence - notably the Jimmy Savile case - may also reflect what might be called a new morality.

I am often impressed by the way in which school children campaign against discrimination and prejudice. Youngsters are very quick to accuse parents of being sexist or racist or some other -ist following the most innocuous remarks.

The riddle of peacefulness remains a riddle. But there is huge value in trying to understand what is happening - not least for the day when the figures start to move the other way.

Broadland in Norfolk was named the most peaceful local council area

Mark Easton, Home editor Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    Which part of the UK is this based on? Definitely not the area my family live!

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    The IEP report falls into its own trap. In trying to evaluate the evidence behind the reduction in crime, it presents evidence of its own which is fundamentally incapable of answering the question. The link between factors such as the economy, police numbers, the CJS and crime is not 'weak', it's 'complicated', and any analysis which does not take account of this is flawed. Easton should know that

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    Mr Easton, do you have a financial stake in sales of Prof. Steven Pinker's book 'The Better Angels of our Nature per chance?

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    There is a simple reason why people are generally more passive these days, and it is due to widespread use of Fluoride in the water supply.

    This is not new..Hitler did the same to water in his rise to power in the 1930's. He didn't do so to improve the condition of peoples teeth, he did it because Fluoride depresses that center of the brain that controls aggressive behavior.

    Check it out...

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    Even if violence in the UK dropped to 0 Im sure we'd all be groaning about how everything is so much worse than before. The fact of the matter is we consume less alcohol, are older & reject child abuse more than 50 or even 15 years ago. And it cant all be put down to under-reporting. Last time I checked murders didnt generally go unnoticed

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    There is research that shows a cause and effect relationship between lead and crime, but criminologists are said to have overlooked it so far.

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    Perhaps the aging of population in developed countries plays a rople. As youths make up a smaller percentage of the population the number of crimes per capita per year is likely to go down. Anger and dissent shift from crime and protest to grumbling in private about taxes and gasoline prices.

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    Perhaps people do not report violent crime as they believe that the police are extremely ineffective in solving it. Maybe also the police have contrived ways to hide the violent crime which they could not solve in order to improve their perceived effectiveness in the eyes of their government. Comparing the rise in cynicism against the rise in peacefulness would be more interesting!

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    After spreading so many violence from Durand line to Kashmir to Palestine, finally UK become peaceful?

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    Oppps and there goes another one ! by Jove they are coming in fast today. What's that you say Easton ? ahh ahha you are a one aren't you, keep plugging away !

    A man has been charged with murder after a fire in which a woman died and her daughter was severely burnt.

    , 56, of Tyseley, appeared before Birmingham magistrates charged with one count of murder and four counts of attempted murder.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    Anyone interested in this phenomenon should check out Prof. Steven Pinker's book 'The Better Angels of our Nature, why violence has declined', he offers some real insights into this development in modern Western societies. He also describes just how violent society was in the Middle Ages and before with contemporary sources from those periods and also evidence from archaeology.

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    Of Course we can expect to see more of this kind of Bumf..We have 2000 Shria Courts running in the U.K. which will not show in these stats also we have a system in U.K. law which favours certain people of a religious order and leads to many people not reporting crime '' as its a waste of time the police will tell you '' you will always be wrong. I think many people have given up. & suffer silently

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    I see another 3 have been convicted today of wanting to blow us to bits. How many is that so far this year ? I have sort of lost count, Still nice to know we are becoming less violent :-) LoL maybe it is the new religions of peace which is having such a calming affect. Then again I wonder is there is some directive that some crimes should not be reported hushed up ! as they may stir up J Public ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    I must confess that I am very skepticle of these figures. It says we are becoming more peaceful? Really? Off course its maybe because we are becoming more athiest, more humanist and more secular that is why society is so wonderful? As a Christian making true peace with God and each other will make society MUCH MORE PEACEFUL and MORE LOVING. SHALOM.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    I wonder if one reason could be that humankind as a whole continues to accumulate wealth. I think that more people are spending less time scheming to stay alive and have more time to think about how they'd like to live. It may be that our ability to arrange things to suit ourselves is (in the aggregate) catching up with our appetites.

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    The fall in crime is due to a rise in tolerance, people of the current generation tolerate people of all lifestyles, religions, etc, this means there is much less hate crimes, and a substantial decrease in vioence.

    not to mention the fact that religion is playing less of a role in british life as we are becoming more and more secular, and this is a sign of respect to other peoples beliefs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    People should consider the study from the USA that found that about 20 years after lead was removed from petrol, crime rates, especially for violence dropped State by State. This link was provable as the States dropped lead from petrol at different times.

    This could be the cause in the UK too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    I'm not sure peaceful is the right word. Less violent, yes. Fist fighting is out but fraud is in and on the up. However we appear far less considerate. Pushing and shoving is on the increase, as is spitting in the street, parking on pavements and walking out of shop doors without looking to see if anyone is walking by. Of course, none of this bothers the police who are quite peaceful about it all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    ...Though we probably top the Yob index.

    Lots of small crimes are going unreported because there are no Police walking the streets. You are encouraged to phone yet no one wants to for "small stuff." So the bar has been raised for anti social behaviour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    123. chiptheduck
    24TH APRIL 2013 - 14:49

    I would imagine the arrest speeding drivers as they are breaking the law, whereas I believe roaming the street is still legal. However feral the yobboes appear to be.

    Take you point about crime reporting though. Although I would guess reported crime for things like robbery of phones etc may be up as you need a crime number for insurance purposes.


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