As the end of lockdown restrictions in the UK inches closer, many fear a post-pandemic surge in crime may hit the nation. Indeed, following the first lockdown, knife crime increased by 25%, and police expect to see a similar rise in crime in the coming months.
Knife crime is especially high in London, which saw a record 15,080 knife offences from September 2019 to September 2020. Recently, over one weekend in February 2021, two people were killed and 14 injured in a series of separate stabbings in the capital.
Recent research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies finds 49% of Londoners feel London is currently becoming more unsafe. 26% of respondents said London is becoming more safe, a belief that is higher among men (28%) than women (23%). The perception that the capital is becoming safer is also higher among younger people, at 32% of 25 to 34-year-olds, compared to 21% of those aged 65 and older.
Interestingly, parents or guardians of a school-aged child (31%) are more likely to find London is becoming safer than respondents who do not parent a school-aged child (22%).
But while 49% of Londoners feel the city is becoming less safe, a similar 48% of respondents agree that, thinking about the policing situation in London, their local area is a safe place. This proportion, however, has decreased from 56% in August and 53% in October 2020, suggesting Londoners are gradually feeling less safe in their areas.
Parents or guardians of a school-aged child again expressed a higher level of feeling safe: 53% of parents and 44% of non-parents agree their local area is safe.
Overall, feelings of unsafety appear somewhat higher in the outer regions of the capital. Respondents living in Outer London are slightly more likely to say London is becoming more unsafe (50%) and to disagree that their local area is a safe place (22%). By comparison, 46% of Inner London residents said London is becoming more unsafe and 15% disagree that their local area is a safe place.
There is also a slight difference among those who self-identify as belonging to either the working class or the middle class. 53% of self-described working-class respondents find London is becoming more unsafe, compared to 48% of self-described middle-class respondents. Similarly, 25% of working-class self-identifiers and 16% of middle-class self-identifiers disagree that their local area is a safe place.
Crime and policing are major issues in the upcoming London Mayoral Election, as Conservative Candidate Shaun Bailey has launched a sustained attack on Labour candidate and current Mayor Sadiq Khan’s crime policies. Khan has in turn blamed the 71% increase in violent incidents from 2012-2013 to 2017-2018 on the Conservatives’ austerity measures.
The issue’s importance in the eyes of voters is clear: 47% of respondents identified policing/crime as a key policy issue likely to determine how they would vote, behind healthcare (56%), housing (50%), and economic growth (49%).
For 2019 Conservative voters and likely Shaun Bailey voters, however, policing/crime was the most-selected option, at 59% for both. By contrast, 44% of 2019 Labour voters and 46% of likely Khan voters chose policing/crime as a key policy issue.
For Conservative voters, concern about London’s safety is evidently slightly heightened. Indeed, a majority of 2019 Conservative voters and those who intend to vote for Bailey believe London is becoming more unsafe: 52% of each group said London is becoming more unsafe, compared to 45% of both 2019 Labour voters and those who intend to vote for Khan.
Though Shaun Bailey has made criticism of Sadiq Khan’s crime and policing record a central aspect of his campaign, 40% of London respondents said they are satisfied with Khan’s policing policies. 21% feel dissatisfied and 31% feel neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.
Further, a plurality (37%) of respondents also said they would most trust the Labour Party to tackle crime, whereas 24% said they would most trust the Conservatives. Naturally, a strong majority (61%) of 2019 Conservative voters said they would trust the Conservatives more.
Yet Londoners are split on whether the Mayor even has the greatest power and responsibility over policing in London: 43% of respondents believe the Prime Minister and Westminster have more power in this area, while 41% believe the Mayor and the London Assembly do. Thus, though crime and policing is an important Mayoral Election issue, many are unconvinced that the Mayor has full power over this policy area.
Whether the Mayor is at all to blame for the alarming crime rates in London is a matter of debate, a debate which is much more personal for family members of victims who demand accountability. Though the number of violent crime offences in the capital is indeed on the rise, almost half of Londoners feel their local area is safe—but a similar proportion also feel London is becoming less safe overall. With a plurality of Londoners satisfied with Khan’s record on policing and trusting the Labour Party to tackle crime, Shaun Bailey may have a difficult task in convincing Londoners otherwise.