Leaders: violent crime | debt

Picture: TSPL

Picture: TSPL

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Overall crime rates in Scotland are down, which is good news, but violent crime and housebreakings are on the rise, which is bad and extremely troubling news.

Indeed, as criminal activity which causes personal injury or violates the home, or even worse does both, can be severely traumatic for the victims, this is a very

disturbing trend.

The Scottish Government att­ributes much of the reduction of crime to its policy of increasing police numbers. Certainly both the increased police numbers and the more visible they are in communities helps to improve crime

detection and deterrence, but as the contrary trends of some types of crime rising while overall rates are falling suggest, increasing police numbers is not a complete solution.

Scotland is not unique in experiencing falling crime. Across the developed world, the rate of car thefts has tumbled, driven by better vehicle security and the installation of tracking devices. And as car theft is regarded as a “gateway” crime, leading young perpetrators into more and worse crime, reducing it to a minimum nips many a criminal career in the bud.

A similar global trend is that, as the price of domestic appliances such as televisions and DVD players has fallen, the resale value of stolen household goods has also dropped, making stealing them not worth the risk. Intelligence-led policing, targeting areas where criminal activity has been concentrated and people suspected of involvement has played a role too.

Drug addiction, though it is popularly supposed to be a permanent and increasing fact of life, has in fact waned, reduced by police activity, rising educational standards and greater awareness of the personal damage that drug consumption causes. And the demographic fact that young people, still sadly the group in society most likely to engage in criminal activity, are now a smaller proportion of the overall population also depresses overall crime rates. But violent crime rising by 7 per cent and housebreaking going up by a much bigger 25 per cent goes against these trends.

Quite why it is happening is difficult to understand. Perhaps as criminal proceeds are harder to find, more violence against the person, particularly in order to rob them of expensive mobile gadgetry, is a consequence. But the increasing tendency to burgle is much harder to comprehend.

The increase in distress that this trend is undoubtedly causing makes justice secretary Kenny MacAskill’s dismissal of the figures as statistically “insignificant” and his contentment to rest on relatively good comparisons with England and Wales sound not just like complacency, but like a minister who has become detached from the realities faced by many victims of crime. The figures suggest that Scotland is becoming a more violent society. He ought to be saying that reversing that trend is not just an urgent priority, but an imperative.

Beware another lurch into debt

Many people, as the recession turns into recovery, making jobs more secure and raising the prospect of pay rises replacing pay cuts, will have decided that it is safe to go out and spend. The desire for some reward after much austerity is understandable, but it may be also stoking up an underlying problem and a future crisis.

While the news after the financial crisis has focused on rocketing levels of government debt, a rising tide of personal debt has started to appear. Spending on credit cards jumped 4.4 per cent in January, implying an annualised increase in credit card debt of 50 per cent.

This is unlikely to continue. Most people were taking advantage of post-Christmas sales to buy discounted goods. As an increasing proportion of that trade is done over the internet, increased use of credit cards during a window of bargain availability is to be expected.

In the short term, the spending mini-boom is welcome. Much of the UK economy is driven by consumer spending, so it helps fuel economic growth and rising confidence. But it also has a longer term downside – that unless this debt is rapidly repaid, a credit debt bubble may be starting to inflate.

Sooner or later, interest rates will start to rise and people spending happily on credit cards now will see their monthly interest bills rise. For those unable to pay, it will mean financial disaster. And for those able to pay, it will mean reining in spending, implying a sudden brake on growth.

The dangers of an economy built on cheap money and easy loans became all too obvious six years ago. Surely this lesson cannot have been forgotten already.

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