Long-term Trajectories of Crime in the UK

Project start date: October 2013
Project end date:
December 2015
Funding awarded by the ESRC:
Twitter: @thatcher_legacy

Project Outline

In what ways do changes in economic and social policies result in changes in patterns of crime, victimisation and anxieties about crime? How do shifts in social values affect national-level experiences and beliefs about crime and appropriate responses to it (such as support for punitive punishments like the death penalty)? What have been the long-term consequences of almost two decades (1979-1997) 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? How have these unfolded spatially? 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?

Using the Thatcher and Major governments (1979- 1997) 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, since the 1970s (and where possible earlier than this). Recent publications have demonstrated the appropriateness of the general methodology (Farrall and Jennings 2012; Jennings et al 2012) and two theoretical papers (see Hay and Farrall, 2011; Farrall and Hay 2010) have outlined our thinking with regards to the ways in which ‘Thatcherite’ social and economic policies in one policy domain (e.g. housing) created ‘spill-over’ effects in other policy domains (such as crime). See Farrall and Hay 2014 for further reading.

Project aims

a) 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), and

b) 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. This will be made available publically.


Farrall, S. and Jennings, W. (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, S. and Hay, C. (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): 550-69.

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

Hay, C. (1996) Restating Social and Political Change, OUP, Milton Keynes.

Hay, C. and Farrall, S. (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): 439-58.

Farrall and Hay (2014) Exploring and Theorising the Long-term Impacts of Thatcherite Social And Economic Policies, in Farrall, S. and Hay, C. (eds) Thatcher’s Legacy: Exploring and Theorising the Long-term Consequencies of Thatcherite Social and Economic Policies, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Jennings, W., Farrall, S. and Bevan, S. (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.

Jennings, W., Gray, E., Hay, C. and Farrall,S. (2015) Collating longitudinal data on crime, victimization, and social attitudes in England and Wales: A new resource for exploring long-term trends in crime, The British Journal of Criminology, 55 (2) Download the article here 

Gray, E., Farrall, S., Hay, C., Dorling, D. and Jennings, W. (2015) Thatcher’s Grandchildren: The Long Road to Inequality. Political Insight, 6 (1). 16 - 19. View the article here

Farrall, S., Burke, N. and Hay, C. (forthcoming) Revisiting Margaret Thatcher’s Law and Order Agenda: The Slow-Burning Fuse of Punitiveness, British Politics.

Gray, E., Jennings, W., Farrall, S. and Hay, C. (forthcoming) Small Big Data: Using multiple data-sets to explore unfolding social and economic change, Big Data and Society.

Forthcoming Speaking engagements

We’re often invited to speak at various events or giving papers on this research project at conferences and so on.

Previous speaking engagements

  • "A New Resource for Social Scientists: Exploring Trends Over Time Using the British Social Attitudes and British Crime Surveys", University of Edinburgh, February 2016
  • “Thinking about the idea of a ‘Thatcherite Legacy’”, The Death of Thatcher on Social Media workshop, University of Sheffield, 30 June 2015 [Invitation].
  • “Housing Tenure and Crime (1980-1998)”, Sheffield Methods Institute, Quantitative Analyses of Conference, 25th June 2015 [Invitation].
  • “The Complexities of Creating Small Big-Data: Using Public Survey Data to Explore Unfolding Social and Economic Change”, Data Power Conference, Sheffield, 22nd June 2015.
  • “Punctuated Equilibrium and the Criminal Justice Policy Agenda in Britain”Comparative Agendas Project conference, Lisbon, Portugal, June 2015.
  • Sheffield Doc/Fest: Generation Right Screening, 7 June 2015.
  • University College London and Howard League of Penal Reform, 14 May 2015.
  • Southampton University, 29 April 2015.
  • Rutger University, 15 April 2015.
  • Political Studies Association, 30 March 2015.
  • BCS East Midlands Branch meeting, Loughborogh, 4 March 2015.
  • BSC CSEW user group meeting, London, 8 December 2014.
  • Sceptics in the Pub, Sheffield, 26 January 2015.

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