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Jane Griffiths (Reading, East): In the academic circles that deal with crime, it is understood that there is something of a paradox about fear of crime. That is put most succinctly by Professor Jason Ditton from the university of Sheffield. He states:
Reading, East is a young constituency. According to the 1991 census, 65.9 per cent. of its population is of working age, which makes it 20th in that league among all the constituencies in the country. With only 14.7 per cent. of the population of pensionable age, it ranks 596th in the league table for population of pensionable age.
The fact that Reading, East is young is emphasised by the fact that 26 per cent. of my constituentsmore than a quarterbelong to the 16 to 29 age group. That proportion is the 23rd largest of all constituencies in the country. That is not surprising, given that the House of Commons Library says that Reading, East is home to more than 7,000 of the almost 10,000 full-time students at Reading university.
I am a young MPI still like to thinkrepresenting a young constituency. A large amount of my work is with young people in Reading and Woodley. Just over a year ago, I held a forum and invited thousands of young residents from Reading and Woodley to an evening at a local late-night bar. They even got the first drink free. One of the issues raised with me was crime, particularly crime against young men. However, crime was something everyone was concerned about, with young men being the particular victims.
I have continued to talk to people who came along that night, and to those people who apologised for not being able to come but who had an interest and wanted to talk to me about crime. I have also spoken to other young people who have contacted me subsequently. Crime comes up regularly as an issue of concern during meetings such as I have described. Frequently, crime is something that young people in Reading, East are angry about.
Young people are angry about curtailments on their freedom caused by crime and the fear of crime. People are worried about crime happening in places where I, as a woman, would be happy to walk on my own. Yet places where I feel safe walking on my own are places where young people in Reading often do not like to walk. If they do walk in such areasand more of them walk than drivethey do not feel safe.
Jane Griffiths: Fortunately, some people living nearby took the young man in, talked to him and helped him to feel confident enough to go out again. Young men who have suffered in that way have had their freedom seriously curtailed. The young man that I described is aged 20 and is more than 6 ft tall.
We hear much about mobile phones and crime. In fact, I was contacted about the debate by a spokesperson for the Mobile Industry Crime Action Forum. I noted what was said, but I believe that more can be done by the manufacturers and by the firms selling air time to make mobile phones less attractive to steal and to find ways to prevent their use by people who have not bought them.
We have also heard much about the decline in sales of mobile phones. One thing that has not been talked about is the impact of crime and the fear of crime on sales. Young women to whom I talk still consider their mobile phones as a fashion accessory. The look and functions are important: having the right phone matters to them. However, the young men to whom I talk do not seek out the newest mobile phones; they make do with a cheap, old-fashioned model. It is less expensive to replace if it is stolen and less desirable to steal. I see them walking along, holding cheap, clunky, old-fashioned phones, as if to say to everyone: "This is the only phone I've got, so it's not worth robbing me". So, not doing more to tackle the problem is actually resulting in depressed sales for the manufacturers.
I have heard time and time again about young people's experience of crime, especially young men's experience of mugging and street crime. The young people of Reading, East have presented me with a large amount of anecdotal evidence and I wanted to find out if any information or figures had been published about the phenomenon.
I found that most of the research and statistics concerned young men as the perpetrators of crime. Little research has been carried out on young men as the victims of crime. That is not especially surprising due to the way that young men are seen by the criminal justice system. Young men, especially groups of young men hanging around without much to do, are the stereotypical cause of fear of crime.
In the Reading with Wokingham police area that covers my constituency, 664 young people between the ages of 10 and 17 offended in the 15 months between October 1999 and December 2000. That is 2.3 per cent. of the population of that age range. A quarter of those offences were committed by young women; less than 1.75 per cent. of young men between 10 and 17 had offended during that period. Of the 664 young people who offended, 16 per cent., or 106, had committed offences against the person. To put that into context, the Reading with Wokingham area covers about 300,000 people.
Obviously the 575 crimes in Reading, East committed by young men are 575 too many, and I support strongly the work of the local youth offending team in reducing such crime. However, I believe strongly that all young men should not be stigmatised because of those who commit crime. Because some young men commit some crimes, it is most important that we should not lose sight of the fact that some young men are the victims of crime, too.
As I said, I was looking for figures and research to get a true picture of crime against young men. In 1979, a study was carried out in two Sheffield schools, but work on young men as the victims of crime only really started in the 1990s, when work in Edinburgh over nine months revealed that half the sample had been victims of assault, threatening behaviour or theft. Follow-up work in Glasgow found that 82 per cent. of a sample of 208 12 to 14-year-olds recalled having been victimised in the previous year.
In 1992, the British crime survey, using a sample of 1,350, found that a third of 12 to 15-year-olds claimed that they had been assaulted at least once, and I want to highlight that fact. That was the first time that that survey had asked about young people being the victims of crime, but I do not recall that gaining much serious news coverage at the time. If an elderly person is attacked, it is front-page news in the local papers, if not the national papers. We can only imagine the outcry if a third of old ladies had suffered from such crime.
The 1998 British crime survey showed that young men aged between 16 and 25 were at the greatest risk of violence. That statistic was repeated in the reports carried out in 2000, and in the early figures released from the 2001 crime survey, although that records a welcome 19 per cent. fall in the number of violent crimes between 1999 and 2000. In particular, I was pleased to read that of the four categories that comprise violent crimewounding, common assault, robbery and snatch theftthe largest fall, at 34 per cent., was recorded in wounding, which is described as assault resulting in more than trivial injury.
As I said earlier, many young men who have spoken to me have not reported the crime they have suffered, so the figures for reported crime do not reflect the reality; nor do they reflect the extent of the problem facing young men. It is widely accepted that the crime survey, based on a statistically significant survey, is a more reliable guide to true levels of crime. According to that survey, there were 406,000 muggings in the United Kingdom in 1999.
As well as asking about the number of crimes, the survey asks people to rate the incident on a scale from nought to 20. The average score for violence was 6.3, while the average seriousness score for mugging was 7.5the highest for all violence. The figure for mugging has stayed the same each year. The important part of the survey that relates to violence covers the risk of violence to a person. On average, 4.2 per cent. of adults in England and Wales were the victims of one or more violent crimes. The figure is slightly higher for men at 5.3 per cent., than for women, at 3.3 per cent. However, more than
I represent the entire centre of Reading and have talked in a previous debate about the growth in nightlife. On the whole, that change is welcome, given the extra jobs that it has created, and there is now much greater choice when going out. Indeed, going out at night in my constituency is safer than it was five or 10 years ago because of the number of people around, but many people say that the increase in nightlife has resulted in increased violence. Everyone involved in the night-time economy, as well as the police, had a part to play in tackling the increase in violence in the town centre that occurred in the two years from April 1992. However, saying that Reading is sloshing in blood just increases the fear of crime and helps no one.
I join my hon. Friends the Members for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) and for Reading, West (Mr. Salter) in the campaign for more police officers on the streets at night. I am pleased that the chief constable of the Thames Valley police has found the money to civilianise 27 posts in Reading this year as part of a pilot scheme. I also congratulate the police authority on taking the decision to increase the authority's budget by £5 million to extend the civilianisation. I look forward to those officers being on the streets of Reading and Woodley.
I referred earlier to someone who had been mugged a number of times and suffered again on Boxing day. That crime, like the others he has suffered, was not reported to the police. That is not an unusual response by young men to that kind of crime. As a result, the police do not know where such crime happens; nor do they find out whether patterns occur at certain places. In fact, they have no record of most of the muggings against my constituents.
The British crime survey shows us that most muggings take place on the street, that 70 per cent. of them involve more than one person, and that in 93 per cent. of cases at least one of the offenders is male. In 40 per cent. of the violent incidents, victims judged that the offender was under the influence of alcohol, but that is least likely for mugging, where the figure is 17 per cent. As the survey says, that is probably a result of the premeditated nature of the offence.
We therefore know that mugging is most likely to involve a group of males in the street, but that knowledge does not get us much further forward. We also know that mugging has been very unlikely to take place in the centre of Reading since the welcome introduction of closed circuit television. However, I have talked to young men in my constituency, and it seems that mugging happens most frequently to young people on radial routes into and out of the centre of Reading and Woodley in the evening and at night.
I would like crime reduction officers from the police to visit young men where they arein the schools, colleges, offices and the university. I would like those young men to talk about their experiences in Reading of street crime and to talk about the places where it happens and what happens. The aim of that is to try to get young men to understand the importance of reporting street crime and to try to get them to think that people are interested in hearing about what they have experienced. I do not want some young men to get into street crime themselves because they believe that no one takes it seriously. I do
I started this debate as a result of the approaches that I had received from young men in Reading, East, and I hope that that remark will not be misconstrued. When they had told me about the levels of crime that they were facing, I was astonished. I must admit that I found it hard to believe that young men in Reading and Woodley could be facing so much violence. I want there to be Government action to tackle this problem for our young men. I want action to be taken to show them that someone cares about what happens to them. Most of all, I want action to show young men in my constituency that, if they get involved, talk to the authorities and engage in dialogue, they can change things. Politics does work.