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The University of Southampton

New study finds Austerity 1.0 led to more crime – could we see the same again in Austerity 2.0?

Published: 22 November 2022
Someone trying to break into a car
Violent crime increased during Austerity 1.0

A new study from the University of Southampton has found that Austerity 1.0 led to an increase in crime across urban areas in England and Wales, and an increase in new offenders.

The study, “Kicking You When You’re Already Down: The Multipronged Impact of Austerity on Crime”, looks at how the first wave of austerity in England and Wales affected crime. The findings come as the Chancellor announced in his Autumn Statement that a fresh round of austerity measures would come into effect in 2024, after the next general election, and include £30 billion planned spending cuts.

The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), was authored by Professor Corrado Guilietti (Co-Investigator of ESRC Centre for Population Change and Connecting Generations) and Dr Brendon McConnell, Lecturer in Economics. It focuses on the impact that austerity-driven welfare cuts had on crime in urban areas in England and Wales during 2011-2015 and documents four distinct aspects of crime that were affected:

  • Increase in district-level crime;
  • Crime being more concentrated in urban areas;
  • Neighbourhoods deemed more deprived before austerity experienced the sharpest increase in crime;
  • An increase in new offenders.

Dr Brendon McConnell, said: “Putting these four pieces of evidence together paints a comprehensive picture of the negative consequences of the first wave of austerity on crime in England and Wales.”

The researchers looked at data from several official sources:

  • Street-level crime data, collected from;
  • District-level reoffending data from the Ministry of Justice;
  • Property-level housing transaction data, from HM Land Registry;
  • Additional data on police officer numbers (police force area), as well as local sociodemographics (district level).
mother and son next to radiator to keep warm
Austerity 1.0 affected many reliant on welfare programmes

Austerity 1.0

In the late 2000s the UK experienced a recession which resulted in the need to make ‘fiscal consolidation plans’ to reduce the budget deficit. The coalition government at the time considered raising taxes or cutting government spending, opting for the latter.

These cuts meant substantial reductions in many welfare programmes, including Housing Benefits, Disability Living Allowance and Child Benefits, according to previous research.

“What we know is that the areas hit by austerity 1.0 have been affected almost consistently since 2010 and that it never really ended,” said Dr McConnell.

“If austerity 2.0 were to occur, it will create an additional strain on the communities that have lived under the cuts for over a decade now.”

Cuts and Crime

This study focused on urban areas in England and Wales and found areas hardest hit fell into three broad categories:

  • Older, industrial areas of England and Wales;
  • Seaside towns;
  • London boroughs.

The findings indicate that austerity led to a 3.7% increase in total crime, with an increase in violent crime of 4.8%.

Although areas more vulnerable to the cuts saw an increase in district-level crime, the study found no changes in reoffending, suggesting the increase in crime was being driven by new offenders.

Dr McConnell said: “The finding that the austerity-induced crime increases are being driven by new offenders points to a further negative consequence of the first wave of austerity.

“Committing a crime for the first time today will likely have future negative consequences – including but not limited to increase exposure to violence, lower legal labour market prospects, and the negative consequences of these on family life.”

Photo of arm breaking into a house with a crowbar
Austerity-induced crime increases being driven by new offenders

Dr McConnell added: “Given that a large body of work in criminology documents the stability of concentration over time and space, the increase we document – a 1.1% rise in concentration – is notable, even though not particularly large.”

The study also indicates that welfare cuts led to an increase in crime in poorer areas.

Dr McConnell said: “The first wave of austerity led to higher crime in districts more exposed to the cuts, and concentrated crime within districts were considerably higher in more deprived neighbourhoods.”

These neighbourhoods, which were identified as deprived prior to the cuts, experienced the sharpest increase in crime over the first three years of austerity, according to the report.

Dr McConnell added: “Given that these areas were already suffering from other consequences due to austerity, our results for crime show an additional negative outcome being layered on to areas hardest hit by the welfare cuts.”

Previous academic studies have found austerity caused negative changes in other areas, including excess mortality, worse mental health, and increased use of food banks.

“The findings of this work are important for at least two reasons,” Dr McConnell said.

“First, they highlight an additional area of life impacted by large-scale welfare cuts. Any government that takes seriously the idea of evidence-based policy will want to consider these wider consequences when implementing future austerity-related policies.

“Second, we document a net welfare loss from austerity 1.0 -- the welfare losses we calculate far exceeded the financial savings to the Treasury.”

For sale sign outside property
The housing market was used to measure the effect of the policy

Housing Market Analysis

The final part of the paper looked at house prices, to measure the total effect of the policy.

The housing market can reflect changes to local characteristics and amenities, such as crime and other elements that changed due to austerity, and set these into property prices.

Dr McConnel said: “Using house prices, we document a welfare loss of £92.8billion in the three years following the implementation of the Welfare Reform Act. This is based only on the urban areas we study, so would be larger for the entire country.

“This loss – borne by local residents – far exceeds the savings made by reducing welfare generosity, which was estimated to be £43.47billion for the country as a whole.”

The full paper can be viewed here .

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