Growing economic disparity feeds crime

Priyanca Radhakrishnan 

Crime is on the rise.

Official crime statistics in September 2016 showed 12,529 more crime victims than in the previous year. Burglaries went up 15% to more than 71,000 cases in the year, which was 9559 more than for the same time the year before.

Practically every day we read about yet another burglary and yet another brutal assault on dairy or liquor store owners and operators.

The cause and effect

In an influential 1968 academic paper, Economist Gary Becker (University of Chicago) said that criminals weigh up the expected costs and benefits of committing a crime. That includes the likelihood of being caught.

Sadly, the conviction rate for burglaries in Auckland sits at about 7%, which means that in 93% of cases offenders go scot free. In addition, 30 community police stations nationwide are being shut in a cost-saving measure.

Research tells us that there is a strong correlation between rising inequality and rising crime. It may be cold comfort to someone who has been robbed and brutally beaten. However, unless we take a step back and analyse what drives crime, we will never address it effectively.

Rising inequality

It is not poverty per se that drives crime. If we were all poor, there probably would not be an issue with rising crime. It is the unequitable distribution of wealth and the increasing disparity that drives crime.

Tackling inequality can make our societies fairer and our economies stronger.

A group of World Bank researchers tested this theory.

They analysed over 2000 municipalities in Latin America and found that localities with less inequality do indeed have lower crime rates. There have been similar studies in different parts of the world.

Rising inequality is the norm in most developed countries but none has seen it rise by as much as New Zealand has seen. Currently, 10% of the richest Kiwis own over 60% of New Zealand’s wealth.

According to a 2014 UN Report, child poverty in New Zealand has reduced by half a percent since 2008.

Australia reduced child poverty by six per cent in that period. Finland and Norway, who have similar populations to us, reduced theirs by more than 4% and 3% respectively. The average house price in Auckland is ten times average income, compared to three times the average income for my parents’ generation.

These are all indicators of growing inequality.

The raging debate

In his book, ‘The Inequality Debate,’ journalist Max Rashbrooke tells us that growing inequality leads to a breakdown in trust between the rich and the rest of us.

People start to forget what life is like for those who have less than them.

As a result, they are less likely to feel like they have anything in common with them, to care about others or to extend a helping hand to those less fortunate.

Growing inequality affects us all – not just those at the bottom.

Eroding progress

An OECD study suggests rising inequality was responsible for wiping a third off New Zealand’s economic growth in the past 30 years.

When I am out talking to people about the top issues for them this election, it is housing, health and safety that come out as major issue.

People shut out of the housing market, unable to find decent places to rent and the health impacts of overcrowding. Young mums who have to choose between taking their child to the doctor or putting food on the table that week.

More than 41,000 people are homeless and 40,000 children live in poverty in New Zealand. This is unacceptable and it does not have to be this way.

I am not surprised that crime is on the rise.

In addition to growing inequality, the Police Budget has seen cuts in real terms.

Community policing is being axed as funding is centralised.

The Police is under-resourced and a majority of burglaries go unresolved.

What surprises me is a government that either does not see this or refuses to act on it – till it is election year. You and I are paying the price for the government’s inaction to growing inequality and rising crime.

Priyanca Radhakrishnan was born in India, educated in Singapore and New Zealand. She has been with the Labour Party for about 11 years in various capacities. She is the Party’s candidate in the Maungakiekie constituency in the general election scheduled to be held on Saturday, September 23, 2017.

Please read our Sub-Leader, “Let us get to the real cause of crime,’ under Viewlink in this issue.

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