Written evidence submitted by the Social Market Foundation (POP0045)


About the Social Market Foundation


1. The Social Market Foundation (SMF) is Britain’s leading cross-party think-tank, standing proudly in the centre-ground of politics since 1989. The Foundation’s main activity is to publish original papers on key topics in the economic and social fields, with a view to stimulating public discussion on the performance of markets and the social framework within which they operate. The SMF is a registered charity (1000971) and a company limited by guarantee. It is independent of any political party or group and is funded predominantly through sponsorship of research and public policy debates. The SMF is overseen by a Board of Trustees and Chair.



About this evidence


2.This evidence submission is based largely upon the analysis from three Social Market Foundation blogs: The thin(ning) blue line (April 2022), Fraud is now Britain’s dominant crime (March 2022), To get to grips with crime, we need to understand why more and more victims are giving up on prosecution (2021)

and our report Future-proofing justice (2022). These four pieces explore the trends in criminality in England and Wales, the police response, and a number of the problems in the criminal justice process. The former two, go on to outline some ideas for helping the police be more effective in their efforts to tackle crime as the tools and methods used to commit crime evolve, and new crimes come into existence as a result of technology and other factors.


3. This response will only answer a selection of the questions in the call for evidence. It will focus upon those where SMF’s previous relevant research can inform our answers.




1)      What a modern police service, fit for the 2020s and beyond, looks like


4. A modern police service – fit for dealing effectively with 21st Century crime must have sufficient capacity and be adaptive in the face of what is already proving to be a turbulent century; the tools for, and methods of perpetrating crime evolve rapidly with technology. As a result, the complexity of crime grows. A further challenge is that technological change also generates opportunities for new types of crime to emerge, adding more to the burdens on law enforcement.




2) What balance police forces in England and Wales should strike between a focus on preventing and solving crime and carrying out their other functions?


5. The police should return to focusing upon the core functions of dealing with crime. Sir Michael Barber’s recent review into policing identified a number of important issues and made very helpful contributions to the debate about police reform.[2] One of the most valuable points made by Sir Michael concerned the substantial amount of police time spent on non-core tasks, such as dealing with social problems rather than criminality. Therefore, the main operational re-balancing that needs to take place is not between rearranging the policing effort towards prevention and away from pursuit or vice-versa, but is moving decisively away from the police spending too much time managing a wider set of social challenges beyond crime.


6. In the context of a police service wholly focused on criminality, the various elements that make up the police’s approach to reducing crime rates should not be seen through a dichotomic lens. Prevention and pursuit for example, are interlinked and support each other. Thye should be seen as complements to each other. For instance, preventative policing - such as “hotspot policing” (a tactic proven to reduce crime in localities) – can free up police resources that can then be focused on dealing with some of the more complex crime. Further, some of the tactics associated with preventative policing have the benefit of generating intelligence that can aid investigations, whether they be reactive or proactive.


7. Therefore, we consider it more useful to think of policing as a “sub-system” (of a wider “crime control system”) with all parts of the former working in conjunction to deliver on the objectives of preventing and investigating crime and arresting criminals. The wider “crime control system” – of which policing is part - includes not just the police but the criminal justice process, prisons and probationary services. The overall goal of this system should be reducing the problem of crime. Therefore, if policymakers fall into the trap of thinking of different aspects of policing, for example, as discrete and (potentially) conflicting taskswith one activity gaining at the expense of others – and perhaps underpinned by an outlook that focuses on merely managing the volume of crime, there is a risk that policy undermines rather than helps policing achieve what the public wants it to.


2)      What roles police forces should prioritise?


8. SMF has suggested that policing across England and Wales needs to be re-organised. Local constabularies often struggle with some of the high volume crimes with significant aggregate impact and which are largely cross-boundary. There are a myriad of reasons for this, but key ones include a lack of incentives for local forces to tackle such crimes, higher competing priorities within constrained local budgets and a lack of expert policing capacity and capability. Consequently, such crimes are better dealt with by specialist regional and national entities rather than local forces.


9. Economic crime in general, and fraud in particular, is an obvious example of a crime-type that is (generally) cross-boundary, has a significant aggregate regional and national (and indeed international) impact and local forces have few resources to pursue fraudsters and ultimately the incentives to do so are weak when there are other local priorities.


10. The level at which particular categories of policing take place should determine the roles that get prioritised by different parts of the overall policing structure in England and Wales. If, for example, fraud became part of the remit of the National Crime Agency (NCA), as SMF has argued, the NCA will need to prioritise the recruitment of more digital forensic experts and forensic accountants, among other roles, or the training of talented general recruits to ultimately become specialists in such areas. Further, such recruitment and training needs to take place on a scale commensurate with the size and impact of the threat.


11. At the same time as the regional and national policing entities focused on their relevant specialisms; ensuring they have the staff and teams with the appropriate training, qualifications and experience, local constabularies can focus upon more traditional policing roles, and ensuring the local police are effectively trained and retained to deal with the crime that local constabularies would continue to deal with. Under SMF’s proposals this would be most other crime-types, where locality remains an important factor.


6) What steps can be taken to improve national conviction rates, including via relationships with other bodies such as the Crown Prosecution Service?


12. There are failings in some parts of the “system” of which policing and criminal justice process are part. There is a strong case for an overhaul to ensure that it operates more seamlessly as a system, in order to deliver effective crime control. More specifically, SMF considers that policymakers would see the best “returns” from policy changes and new investment by focusing upon increasing “detection rates” and successfully getting more cases through the courts, more quickly. This is because:



13. In addition, the current (post Covid-19 pandemic) backlogs in the courts and the troubles with some aspects of the court modernisation programme; and the CJS Common Platform in particular, are likely compounding the problems described above.[8]


14. It is across these particular areas of decreased performance that – if their performance can be improved – are likely to make the biggest difference to the levels of crime across England and Wales over the next five years. Bringing about improvements in performance, has to begin with expanding capacity beyond the current planned 20,000 uplift in officers. As much of the crime being committed becomes more complex because of technology and other factors, investigating crime requires more people in general and in particular officers and support staff with specialist skills sets. Therefore, capacity increases have to be planned and implemented with capability as a key criteria.


15. We have suggested that, in order to deliver a significantly more effective effort against economic crime (especially fraud) there needs to be an additional uplift of at least 30,000 specialist officers and civilian support staff.[9] SMF has argued that the 30,000 should form part of a wider police service expansion plan – to complement the reorganisation of policing responsibilities that we have also proposed[10] which would aim to get police numbers in England and Wales up to the European average (in 2019) of 357 per 100,000 of the population.[11] A staged growth process taking place over five or so years, of this sort of scale, would put the police in a much better position to adapt to the crime problems of modern society and have enough margin to enable the police service to be flexible in the face of the turbulent decades ahead as crime becomes more complex, not least because of the evolution of the tools and methods utilised to commit crimes and the growing international dimension to much of it.


16. Fraud is a good example of the problem of increasing complexity in crime that – unless faced-up-to realistically – will only get worse. A lot of fraud has an international element, it is typically cyber-enabled (with automation playing a central role) and perpetrated on a vast scale, which complicates what can often already be a complex crime, it is usually labour intensive and time consuming to investigate and – in many cases is closely associated with sophisticated organised crime gangs and has links to other criminal activity such as money laundering. Further, it costs the UK somewhere in the region of £137 billion a year[12], with the UK widely seen as the “consumer fraud capital of Europe”.[13] Therefore, the approximately £8 billion that we estimate it would take to deliver such an increase in police numbers to better deal with fraud, would seem a worthwhile investment. Not least because we believe that the specific increase in specialist officers and staff working on economic crime could see a 17-fold increase in the number of frauds resulting in an arrest or summons compared to nowif all fraud teams were as “productive” (i.e. had the same arrest rate as a proportion of total fraud investigations) as the City of London Police. This would be the equivalent of just under a third of the frauds reported directly to Action Fraud by the public in 2019-20. We also estimate that 30,000 more specialist officers and staff might result in:[14]



17. If the productivity of the police’s counter-fraud efforts could be enhanced (i.e. the “detection” rate could be increased) regardless of the improvements in outcomes that accrue from the kind of increase in capacity described above, fraud levels could be driven down. For example, one study found that a 1% increase in the arrest rate leads to a 14% reduction in the number of frauds committed per 100,000 people in England and Wales.[15]

October 2022

[1] The thin(ning) blue line - Social Market Foundation. (smf.co.uk)

[2] srpew_final_report.pdf (policingreview.org.uk)

[3] The thin(ning) blue line - Social Market Foundation. (smf.co.uk)

[4] The thin(ning) blue line - Social Market Foundation. (smf.co.uk)

[5] Future-proofing-justice-June-2022.pdf (smf.co.uk)

[6] Future-proofing-justice-June-2022.pdf (smf.co.uk)

[7] To get to grips with crime, we need to understand why more and more victims are giving up on prosecution - Social Market Foundation. (smf.co.uk)

[8] Future-proofing-justice-June-2022.pdf (smf.co.uk)

[9] : Fraud is now Britain’s dominant crime, but policing has failed to keep up - Social Market Foundation. (smf.co.uk)

[10] See more details here: Fraud is now Britain’s dominant crime, but policing has failed to keep up - Social Market Foundation. (smf.co.uk)

[11] The thin(ning) blue line - Social Market Foundation. (smf.co.uk)

[12] The financial cost of fraud 2021 | Crowe UK

[13] UK is card fraud capital of Europe – think tank - Social Market Foundation. (smf.co.uk)

[14] SMF calculations using the City of London Police’s reported annual counter-fraud performance (2020-21) as the bass for the estimates.

[15] Determinants of Violent and Property Crimes in England and Wales: A Panel Data Analysis by Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay, Samrat Bhattacharya, Lu Han :: SSRN