Wherever universal credit is rolled-out crime rates increase, according to an academic article in the latest edition the British Journal of Criminology. In fact, the authors predict that crime rates will double once UC has been fully rolled-out.
According to the University College London authors, the introduction of UC coincides with a rise in total crime rates, including rises in property crime and rises in violent crime.
The report suggests that the roll-out of UC provides a unique chance to study the effect of the introduction of a new benefit type on crime rates.
This is partly because of the way it was introduced at a local level at different times and also because it was such a far-reaching change which introduced a benefit cap and sought to shift responsibility from the state to the individual.
The authors found that crime had fallen from 2010 until 2014 and then slowly risen. But there are great variations across the country with some areas experiencing crime rates several orders of magnitude larger than others.
The roll-out of UC began to increase from the middle of 2014, with over 800,000 claimants by the middle of 2018.
The study found that increases in UC claim rates were clearly linked with a rise in crime in any given area.
And this was not a short-term blip. The introduction of UC is linked to a significant upwards shift in the long-term trend in crime rates. This is true even when factors such as unemployment, police officer numbers and local government spending are factored in.
In other words, the introduction of UC reverses a trend of falling crime rates and changes it to rising rates not just for a few months but year after year with no sign of an end in sight.
Shockingly the authors conclude that “the full implementation of UC would nearly double the total crime rate in a given area”.
UC has not been fully rolled-out anywhere yet, with millions of legacy benefits claimants still to be forcibly migrated. But in a few years’ time the process will be complete and so, it seems, will a drastic change in crime rates across the UK.
The authors clearly say that they cannot prove that UC causes an increase in crime, only that there is good evidence to link UC to an increase in crime.
Furthermore , there is no way that the report could establish whether it was UC claimants themselves committing crimes or whether it was the effects of UC on wider social networks.
At Benefits and Work we are reluctant to publish anything that seeks to suggest a link between claiming benefits and crime.
But this appears to be a serious piece of research which raises important issues about the effect of UC on communities.
When you consider that UC means long waits for a first payment, almost certain benefits deductions and debt problems, a rapidly rising level of sanctions and claimant commitments that may be impossible to keep, it’s hardly surprising that this has an effect on households and the wider community.
More research is clearly needed. But we can be sure it will not be undertaken by the DWP.
You can read the full article here.