Great Britain

Murder risk in England and Wales much higher for black people

Black people in England and Wales are more than five times as likely as white people to be victims of homicide, new research shows.

Austerity was potentially a significant factor, although more research was needed, said Prof Lawrence Sherman, co-author of the study, which examined data between 2000 and 2020. The study, by Cambridge University’s Institute of Criminology, found that Asian people were twice as likely as white people to be homicide victims.

The study analysed the homicide rate for every 100,000 people for different ethnic groups in England and Wales, and found it had fluctuated over the last 20 years. In the early 2000s the number of black people killed was at its peak, at 10 people for every 100,000 of population. The rate then dropped to as low as three people per 100,000, and began to increase from 2013.

Latest analysis put the homicide rate for black people at five for every 100,000 people, but it was even higher for black youngsters aged 16-24, who during the last 20 years were 10.6 times more likely to be killed than their white counterparts. Even more alarmingly, that had increased, and in 2018-19 young black people were 24 times more likely to be homicide victims than young white people.

The Cambridge team could not answer exactly why there was such a disparity, but Sherman said there were multiple factors, including the effects of austerity, poverty and racism.

He said: “The massive drop in black victimisation we find from 2001 to 2012 may have been due to police targeting illegal gun ownership by criminal networks, such as Operation Trident in the Met. It is also possible that a variety of changes in policing nationally after 2012 can help explain the rapid increase in black homicide victimisation since then.

“But in the absence of controlled tests of the kind undertaken in the US, it is impossible to identify how much of the overall disparity is due to policing versus other causes, such as austerity cutbacks in youth services. Austerity may be a very big factor in driving these disparities over the last decade.”

Sherman called for greater use of evidence in making policing decisions, saying: “Policing requires reliable evidence, and changing levels of risk are a vital part of preventive policing. Simple statistics show us that the risks of becoming a murder victim are far from equal.

“We need more data analysis of this nature to inform police resource allocation, and promote a more fact-informed dialogue with communities across the country.”

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