2 What has happened to violent crime in Scotland?
2.1 Trends over the past decade
Across all established sources there has been a significant reduction in non-sexual violence in the general adult population over the past decade, driven by decreases in the years following 2008-09 with broad stability across most sources in more recent years.
Between 2008-09 and 2017-18:
The Scottish Crime and Justice Survey found a 46% decrease in the estimated number of violent crimes experienced by adults, including those not reported to the police, from 317,000 to 172,000 incidents in 2017-18 (Figure 2).
Between 2008-09 and 2018-19:
Between 2008-09 and 2017-18:
NHS Emergency Hospital Admissions due to Assault decreased by 55% (Figure 4).
Figure 2: Estimated number of violent incidents, 2008-09 to 2017-18.
Base: SCJS 2008/09 (16,000); 2009/10 (16,040); 2010/11 (13,010); 2012/13 (12,050); 2014/15 (11,470); 2016/17 (5,570); 2017/18 (5,480) Variable: INCVIOLENT
Source: Scottish Crime and Justice Survey, 2017-18
Figure 3: Non-sexual crimes of violence in Scotland, 2008-09 to 2018-19.
Source: Recorded Crime National Statistics, 2018-19
Figure 4: Emergency hospital admissions in Scotland as a result of assault and assault by sharp object, year ending 31 March 2009-2018.
Source: ISD Scotland: Scottish Morbidity Record (SMR01), Unintentional Injuries Statistics, 2008-09 & 2017-18
2.2 When did the biggest reductions in non-sexual violence take place?
Looking in more detail across the sources, the biggest reductions in non-sexual violence took place at different times, depending on the severity of the violence experienced.
For example, the SCJS - which demonstrates that the majority of violent crime is minor assault (an act similar in nature to what the police record as a Common assault) - estimates that the volume of violent crime experienced by adults decreased by 46% between 2008-09 and 2017-18. However, closer analysis shows that the fall over the last decade has been mostly driven by decreases between 2008-09 and 2010-11, with some fluctuations but broad stability seen since then. Similarly, with Police Recorded Common assault, most of the decline over the past decade occurred during 2008-09 to 2012-13, with figures more stable and increases in some groups since then.
For violence that involves more serious injury to the victim, such as Attempted murder & Serious assault - Police Recorded Crime and Emergency Hospital Admissions statistics provide a better measure of changes over the past decade. Here the data shows a longer-term reduction up to 2014-15, after which the number of emergency Hospital admissions showed a further, if limited decrease between 2014-15 and 2017-18. Over those same four years the number of Attempted murders & Serious Assaults recorded by the police increased, though remained over a third lower in 2017-18 than in 2008-09.
2.3 Why has violent crime declined in Scotland?
The long term decline in violence in Scotland over the past decade has coincided with the implementation of Scotland’s Public Health Approach to violence prevention and the collaborative work of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit, Medics Against Violence and other key partners including the police, health, education, youth services and the third sector. The Scottish Government and other national agenices have taken a consistent approach to violence and continued to treat violence prevention and reduction as a priority. Activity on violence has largely been centred on Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit, supported by Scottish Government funding since 2006-07. The Unit has acted both as a delivery mechanism for anti-violence programmes as well as a focus for innovation and change. The model is now being implemented in other parts of the UK.
A consideration of the reasons why violent crime has declined in Scotland, in line with trends across the UK, and in other high-income countries, are explored in the recently published Violence Prevention Framework by the Scottish Public Health Network. They note that potential contributory factors may include:
- the level, nature and success of policing;
- certainty of sanction for those involved in violence;
- unemployment rates, wage levels and consumption levels;
- alcohol consumption, affordability and availability;
- availability and use of illegal substances;
- mental health treatments;
- the position of women in society;
- demographic change impacting on the number of potential offenders;
- wider cultural changes;
- unintended side effects of other policies; and
- interventions aimed specifically at preventing and reducing violence.
Despite the long term reductions in non-sexual violent crime in Scotland, these reductions have not benefitted all groups in Scottish society equally and violent victimisation remains higher for some groups in society than for others. This report considers non-sexual violence in further detail by focusing on key aspects of violent crime, looking at both victims and perpetrators of violent crime in Scotland now and over time. Key findings are presented in Section 3.