Long-term Trajectories of Crime in the UK: a new ESRC project


In what ways do changes in economic and social policies at one point in time result in changes in patterns of crime, victimisation and anxieties about crime at another? How do shifts in social values affect national-level experiences and beliefs about crime and appropriate policy responses to it (such as public or political support for punitive punishments like the death penalty)? What have been the long-term consequences of almost two decades of neo-conservative and neo-liberal social and economic policies for the UK’s criminal justice system and the general experience of crime amongst its citizens? Similarly, how do changes in the crime rates affect the sorts of social and economic policies pursued? What lessons does the recent past offer us today, when policy announcements about further cuts to public expenditure are commonplace and economic growth uncertain and faltering?

These are questions that will be explored by a new ESRC-funded project undertaken by researchers at the Universities of Sheffield and Southampton, Professor Stephen Farrall, Dr Will Jennings, Professor Colin Hay and Dr Emily Gray. Using the Thatcher and Major governments as our case study, our aim is to explore the experiences of crime, victimisation and fear of crime at the national and regional levels, and for key socio-demographic groups, dating back to the 1970s (and where possible earlier than this). This project builds on studies that highlight the importance of recognising feedback between social, economic and criminal justice domains – and develop a methodology for analysis that considers both the aggregate and individual-level (Farrall & Jennings 2012Jennings et al. 2012Hay & Farrall, 2011Farrall & Hay 2010). The core insight of our approach is the potential for spillover from one policy domain to another, and how these feedback processes are structured in time, with institutions and populations becoming locked-in to path dependent processes of action and reaction. 

The aims of the project are:

  1. to understand the long-term trajectory of crime rates alongside relevant political, social and economic developments and interventions (paying attention to both neo-liberal and neo-conservative strands of thinking, Hay, 1996, Farrall and Hay 2014);
  2. to develop an approach to making long-term assessments of dramatic and sweeping policy changes which could be adopted by other researchers.

Our project, which is interdisciplinary in nature, will chart such trends generally as well as exploring the impact of the growing existence and tolerance of economic inequalities since the 1970s on a range of key processes related to crime (such as unemployment or growing levels of economic inequality). In this way we will be able to throw light on to the long term impact of shifts in social and economic policies on experiences of crime and associated phenomena. Such an examination will be crucial in a wider understanding of what (might) happen when one dramatically breaks with a previous political consensus (in this case, Keynesianism) and embraces a new, radically different one (in this case thinking inspired by ‘New Right’ political philosophies).

Part of our impact strategy includes the production of a 30min film in a modern history style which outlines our findings. We’re working with DocFest (the world’s 4th largest documentary festival) to make a film about the project. The call for producers and directors interested in making the film is now out, with the deadline of 14th February.



Farrall, Stephen, and Will Jennings. (2012) ‘Policy Feedback and the Criminal Justice Agenda: an analysis of the economy, crime rates, politics and public opinion in post-war Britain.’ Contemporary British History 26(4): 467-488.

Farrall, Stephen, and Colin Hay. (2010) ‘Not So Tough on Crime? Why Weren’t the Thatcher Governments More Radical In Reforming the Criminal Justice System?’ British Journal of Criminology 50(3): 550-569.

Farrall, Stephen, and Colin Hay (eds.). (2014) Thatcher’s Legacy: Exploring and Theorising the Long-term Consequences of Thatcherite Social and Economic Policies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hay, Colin, and Stephen Farrall. (2011) ‘Establishing the ontological status of Thatcherism by gauging its ‘periodisability’: towards a ‘cascade theory’ of public policy radicalism.’ British Journal of Politics and International Relations 13(4): 439-458.

Farrall, Stephen, and Colin Hay. (2014) ‘Exploring and Theorising the Long-term Impacts of Thatcherite Social And Economic Policies.’ In Stephen Farrall and Colin Hay. (eds) Thatcher’s Legacy: Exploring and Theorising the Long-term Consequences of Thatcherite Social and Economic Policies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jennings, Will, Stephen Farrall, and Shaun Bevan. (2012) ‘The Economy, Crime and Time: an analysis of recorded property crime in England & Wales 1961-2006.’ International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice 40(3):192-210.

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