As Crime Surges, Nearly Half of Londoners Think UK Criminal Justice System is Not Tough Enough

August 13, 2020
Law & Order | Local Elections | London
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Recently released figures from the Metropolitan Police reveal that the number of criminal offences in London has risen by 5.53% in the past year. Data published by the Office for National Statistics also highlights the extent of knife crime in the capital; across the last year, there has been a 7% increase in the total number of offences involving knives or sharp instruments in London. There is significant debate about what is to blame for the city’s rising crime. Labour have blamed a significant drop in police numbers over the past decade, an issue which the current Government is now working to address. Meanwhile, many Conservatives have claimed that Sadiq Khan has not done enough to tackle crime as Mayor.

In our latest set of polling, conducted with 2,500 members of the London public, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies have found the public relatively evenly split as to which government body has the most power and responsibility over policing, with a plurality of respondents selecting the Prime Minister and Westminster over the Mayor and London Assembly.

Similar, respondents were split on when London was safer. A slight plurality (35%) of Londoners believe that the city is safer with Sadiq Khan as Mayor of London than it was under his predecessor, Boris Johnson. Johnson and Khan have clashed frequently about their respective records as London Mayor, yet in fact share certain views on using stop and search as a targeted measure to support police in reducing violent crime.

A significant minority (29%) believe that the capital was safer when Boris Johnson was Mayor of London. Over a quarter (26%) of respondents ‘don’t know’ when the city was safer.

Sadiq Khan intends to treat violent crime as a ‘public health issue’ and has launched a Violence Reduction Unit. However, we found that Londoners are strongly divided on their levels of satisfaction with Khan’s policies aimed at reducing crime: 35% of Londoners are satisfied with Khan’s policies and 29% are dissatisfied. Almost a third (32%) of respondents are neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with the Mayor’s approach.

Middle aged and older people are particularly dissatisfied with the current Mayor’s policies. A plurality of 45-54-year olds (37%), 55-64-year olds (47%) and those aged 65 or older (38%) are dissatisfied.

While a significant proportion of respondents are not satisfied with Khan’s overall crime reduction policies, a clear majority (56%) of the London public agree that their local area is a safe place

Although Londoners generally consider their local area to be safe, respondents are strongly divided on how safe they would feel walking alone in their region after dark. A slight plurality (40%) would feel fairly safe, yet almost a third (31%) would consider walking alone after dark is ‘a bit unsafe’ and 14% believe this activity is ‘very unsafe.’ Notably, just 13% of the London public think walking alone in their local areas after dark is ‘very safe.’

Women feel significantly less safe than men when walking alone in their local area after dark. A clear plurality (36%) of female respondents consider themselves ‘a bit unsafe’ walking alone at night, in contrast to just a quarter (25%) of men. Moreover, 18% of women would feel ‘very unsafe’ walking alone at night-time, yet only 10% of men also hold this view. Only 7% of women feel ‘very safe’ walking at night in their local part of London.

Widespread concerns about personal safety in certain instances may influence the public’s view of the country’s criminal justice system. Almost half (49%) of the London public believe that the UK criminal justice system is not tough enough.

Just 11% of Londoners believe it is too harsh, while less than a quarter (24%) consider that it the about right.

Shaun Bailey, the Conservative Candidate for London Mayor, has been keen to stress that he will be tough on crime if elected. An overwhelming majority (70%) of those who intend to vote for Bailey in the 2021 Mayoral Election believe that the country’s handling of crime is not tough enough. Interestingly, a clear plurality (38%) of probable Sadiq Khan voters also consider that the country is not tough enough on crime.

Whilst the London public favours a tougher approach to criminal justice in the UK, a clear plurality (46%) do not think that police forces in the city should be armed. However, a significant minority (36%) are supportive of arming police in London.

A plurality (46%) of those who voted Conservative in the 2019 General Election consider that police should be armed, yet a majority (52%) of 2019 Labour supporters oppose this approach. Ultimately, we found a clear partisan dimension to views on arming the police.

Relatively strong support for arming the police may be linked to the public’s limited confidence in the ability of the police to protect them from crime. Indeed, just 37% of Londoners are confident that the police can protect them, while 32% are neither confident nor unconfident. Over a quarter (28%) are not confident in the ability of the police to protect them.

Older respondents are particularly concerned about the ability of the police to protect them from crime – 30% of those aged 65+ are unconfident in the police’s ability, while 35% of 55-64-year olds share this view.

A clear plurality (47%) of Londoners believe that the Metropolitan Police is under-funded and more public money should be spent supporting it, even if this comes at extra cost to the taxpayer. Just 16% of the London public believe the current level of police funding in the city is correct, while 16% believe the funding of the Metropolitan Police should decrease.

Interestingly, despite the Conservative Party’s base traditionally favouring a more limited role for the government, a significant majority (56%) of 2019 Conservative voters believe that more public money should be spent supporting the Metropolitan Police, even at an extra cost to the taxpayer. A clear plurality (42%) of Labour voters also believe that the city’s police services are underfunded, yet a significant minority (22%) consider that the police is overfunded – which may highlight that a proportion of the Labour Party’s base instead favours increasing funding in other services or establishing alternative public safety programmes.

Ultimately, Londoners are strongly divided in their opinions about crime in the city. Respondents are split on partisan lines when considering the policies of Sadiq Khan, and how the current Mayor compares with his predecessor. A clear majority believe their local area is safe, yet many also feel unsafe under certain circumstances. A strong plurality of the London public consider that the country’s criminal justice system is not tough enough, yet a similarly sized proportion do not support arming the police services. There is cross-party support for increasing Metropolitan Police funding, even at an extra cost to taxpayers.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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