Immigration shows no impact on U.K. violence

by Mark Townsend

The Observer

Crime in British neighborhoods that have experienced mass immigration from Eastern Europe over the last 10 years has fallen significantly, according to research that challenges a widely held view over the impact of foreigners in the United Kingdom.

Rates of burglary, vandalism and car theft all dropped following the arrival of migrants from Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and seven other countries after they joined the European Union in 2004. But the opposite was found to be the case in areas that experienced an influx of asylum seekers from the late 1990s onwards where rates of property crime were “significantly higher.” In addition, immigration has no impact on levels of violent crime on British streets, according to the analysis.

Experts from the London School of Economics (LSE) set out to examine if the common assertion that immigrants cause crime was corroborated by statistics after noting a “paucity of credible empirical evidence” to support the claim.

Places that had attracted large numbers of Eastern European immigrants enjoyed a “significant fall in property crime,” a category of offense that also includes theft and shoplifting. The report, to be published later this year in Harvard University’s “Review of Economics and Statistics,” also found that the relationship between the arrival of thousands of foreigners and levels of violence was “close to zero.”

Brian Bell, a research fellow at the LSE, said: “The view that foreigners commit more crime is not true. The truth is that immigrants are just like natives, if they have a good job and a good income they don’t commit crime.”

The findings come days after a report revealed that the U.K. is becoming more peaceful with rates of violent crime and murder falling more rapidly in the past decade than in any Western European country. “The U.K. Peace Index,” produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace, found that the violent crime rate fell by a quarter between 2003 and 2012, a period of relatively high immigration.

The British Conservative Party has pledged to reduce net migration — the difference between the number leaving the country permanently every year and those arriving — from 200,000 during the last government to less than 100,000. Tory (Conservative) elements have sounded warnings over the impending arrival of more Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants, who at the end of 2013 will gain the same rights to work in the U.K. as other EU citizens, with Romania’s prime minister admitting last week that citizens of his country had come to Britain and committed crimes. However, the LSE report found that neighborhoods that have a high level of immigrants have a lower number of offenses in some crime categories than comparative areas with fewer foreigners.

Marian Fitzgerald, visiting professor of criminology at the University of Kent, on England’s south coast, said that the night-time economy, and the numbers of people who could afford to drink alcohol and socialize, was a key driver of violence.

“Most violent crime is associated with affluence. Most immigrants are not affluent so it’s not surprising that immigration has no impact on that large proportion of total violence which is a function of affluence.”

Previous research by the LSE team revealed that British enclaves with high numbers of immigrants experienced less crime than neighborhoods with fewer arrivals from abroad. The research focused upon neighborhoods that had an immigrant population larger than 30 percent. Bell and his team found “strong and consistent evidence that enclaves have lower crime experiences than otherwise observably similar neighborhoods that have a lower immigrant share of the population.”

One area where large numbers of immigrants exerted a negative effect was highlighted. In places where the government located large numbers of asylum seekers from the late 1990s, property crime rates were “significantly higher in areas in which asylum seekers were located.”

A proportion of the crime might be explained as a result of crimes committed against immigrants, the report’s authors added.