New research by the University of Derby reveals long-term impacts of Thatcher government

13 January 2020

New research published in the British Journal of Criminology – one of the world’s leading criminology journals – suggests that the economic restructuring undertaken by the Thatcher governments in the early-1980s led to more school children ‘giving up’ on their studies, truanting from school and subsequently becoming involved in crime, often in to their adult years.

Using data from a cohort of children born in 1970, researchers at the University of Derby reported that when they were aged 16 (in 1986) some 51 per cent of children admitted that they truanted either some or most of the time. For an earlier cohort (born in 1958) the same rate was lower at 45 per cent. This increase could be explained by the levels of economic restructuring experienced in the areas where the children were living.

The researchers measured economic restructuring as the percentage of people working in mining in the county in which the children were living as recorded in the 1971 census, and the percentage of unemployed men of working age in the same county in the 1981 census. This measure captures the dramatic decline of the industrial base in the 1970s, and very early 1980s and the resulting unemployment it caused. Unemployment in the late-1970s was running at about five per cent, but this more than doubled to almost 12 per cent in the very early-1980s, and is often attributed to the economic philosophy adopted by the Thatcher governments at that time.

The researchers found that the amount of economic restructuring experienced at the county-level was related to levels of alienation from school, which was in turn related to truancy and then offending as an adult.

Professor Stephen Farrall, who led the research team funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, said “As time passes, it is becoming ever clearer that the radicalism of the Thatcher governments caused dramatic changes in the social fabric of the country, changes which affected the lives of ordinary men, women and children for very many years afterwards, and in this case, brought more people into the clutches of the criminal justice system.”

Crime rosedramatically during the 1980s, as reflected in both official records and the Crime Survey for England & Wales, which started in 1982 and was then known as the British Crime Survey.

Professor Farrall added: “2019 marked the 40th anniversary of the 1979 general election, which brought Thatcher to power for the first time. It is clear that even today we are living under her long shadow.”

Find out more about Professor Stephen Farrall’s research

Margaret Thatcher

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