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Living in the UK

Safety and Crime in the UK

Much to the relief of the nation’s residents, crime in the UK is usually low key. As long as you adhere to a number of standard precautions, chances are you won’t see much in the way of crime in the UK. Still, crime and terrorism are frequent worries there. Our article tells you why.

  • Across the whole of the UK, crime rates in general are falling. Although still relatively rare, authorities have seen a sharp rise in violent crime over the last year, especially in England and Wales.
  • The threat level from international terrorism is currently classed as severe in the UK, largely due to a rise in attacks on mainland Europe.
  • The United Kingdom is famous for having one of the most extensive networks of CCTV surveillance in the world, but whether or not it has helped to reduce crime rates is still a highly debated topic.

The Decrease in Crime: A Safer and Stricter Nation?

All in all, the dropping levels of crime in the UK make the country seem to become safer by the year, at least statistically speaking. While crime in the UK obviously exists, rates are generally low. The number of offences has been on a dramatic decline since the mid-1990s peak in criminal activity.

For the year ending June 2016, for example, the Crime Survey for England and Wales showed the latest crime figures, a total of 6.4 million offences, to be one of the lowest figures since the beginning of the survey in 1981, and less than half the number of the 1995 peak. All forms of crime, with the exceptions of slight increases in fraud and sexual offences, have either remained the same or decreased compared to the levels of the year before.

A similar trend can be seen in Scotland, where the crime rate has dropped 3.2% between 2013/14 and 2015/16. The Police Service of Northern Ireland reports a sharp decrease in recorded crime between 2002/03 and 2015/16.

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Is Violence on the Rise?

For the time period of 2005/06, the risk of becoming a victim of any form of crime in the UK was around 20% in all four countries. In 2016, however, this ratio dropped to roughly 15 adults out of every 100. As for the prevalent forms of crime in the UK, theft in all its various forms and vandalism are by far the most widespread. Try to keep an eye on the belongings you carry with you at all times and be aware of your surroundings — it is not unheard of for people to have their mobile phone snatched out of their hands while they are using it on public transport, for example — especially in the main cities.

Isolated areas, e.g. parks, should be avoided after dark. In comparison to many other countries around the globe, violent crime in the UK tend to be relatively rare. It’s better to be safe than sorry, however, as in England and Wales, for example, the violent crime rate increased for the first time in ten years by a shocking 27%. Gun crimes are generally rare. Some neighborhoods in the UK’s larger cities and metropolitan areas, however, have seen an increase in serious crime, mostly related to gang activity and other forms of organized crime.

Terrorism: Heightened Tensions

The UK had a rocky start to the 21st Century, especially in Northern Ireland, where conflict raged for decades and left many tensions behind. Since this conflict ended, mainland Britain has also fallen victim to extremist attacks. The most severe attack happened in London on 7 July 2005, when coordinated suicide bombings by four British Islamists claimed the lives of 52 people and wounded hundreds of others. There have been other incidents since, but fortunately none have reached the magnitude of the July attacks — partly due to the efforts of law enforcement and security agencies.

The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC), which is comprised of representatives of 16 government agencies, sets the threat levels which indicate the likelihood of terrorist attacks in the UK. There are five levels in total:

  • low — an attack is unlikely
  • moderate — an attack is possible but not likely
  • substantial — an attack is a strong possibility
  • severe — an attack is highly likely
  • critical — an attack is expected imminently

What threat level is set at any given time is, of course, subject to change. Due to a rise in terrorist attacks on mainland Europe, the threat level from international terrorism is classed as severe.

In Northern Ireland, the threat of terrorism is also classed as severe, as of November 2016. It should be noted, however, that the situation in Northern Ireland has gotten substantially better since the end of the period of violent conflict dubbed the “Troubles” in 1998. The chances of you, or any UK resident, for that matter, being victim of a terrorist attack are obviously very low. Authorities still recommend being attentive to your surroundings and any suspicious activity or persons, particularly in large crowds or when using public transportation. 

Updated on: December 06, 2018

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