Political figures in Lewisham have been questioning the impression of a think tank report that describes the borough as the ‘least peaceful place in Britain.’
Hackney and Tower Hamlets were also placed in the bottom five places for social harmony in the United Kingdom by the UK Peace Index, from the Institute for Economics and Peace.
The BBC’s Home Editor Mark Easton said on BBC Radio 4 Today, the most listened to news and current affairs radio programme in Britain, that Lewisham was “scarred by gang violence.”
Political and social leaders in Lewisham have reacted with anger to the disparaging depiction of Lewisham and placing it at the bottom of an apparent league table of quality of life. Joan Ruddock MP for Lewisham Deptford spoke to ELL about how the index is not a fair representation of what it is like to live and work in the borough.
Heidi Alexander MP for Lewisham East commented: “I think the report paints an unfair picture about what life is like in Lewisham”. She acknowledged the high crime rates in the borough, but also stressed that a lot of work was going on within the community to make it a safer place.
East London Lines spoke to Mayor of Lewisham Sir Steve Bullock who said that “It is no surprise… that the areas that feature in this report as the less peaceful include the areas that are most economically challenged.” Sir Steve also quoted figures from a recent survey stating that 83% of Lewisham were satisfied with where they lived.
Barista Mehmet Mustafa, 48, of Madisons Express Sandwich and Coffee bar in the New Cross Road says he does not recognise this negative view of his borough. He had spent most of his life in Lewisham and had never been threatened with violent crime.
Liberal Democrat councillor Duwayne Brooks is appalled at the way the borough he represents and hopes to lead as an elected Mayor has been denigrated by the report and wider media coverage.
This was the first report of the ‘ UK Peace Index’ which established its table of ‘levels of peacefulness’ by examining criminal statistics during the period 2003 and 2012.
The report’s authors defined peace ‘as the absence of violence or the absence of the fear of violence.’
Critics of the report explain that one of the reasons for the East Lines boroughs of Lewisham, Hackney and Tower Hamlets being placed in the least ‘peaceful’ category is that the measurement is primarily by crime statistics and does not take into account density of population and factors associated with social urban environments. This would explain the most peaceful areas of the country being sparsely populated and rural such as Broadland in Norfolk.
Page 12 of the report profiled Lewisham and began by highlighting the historical background of “it being the location of a massive street battle in 1977 between the British Union of Fascists and their opponents.” The high score of least peacefulness was based on:
1) the level of knife crime particularly with young people aged between 13 and 24;
2) a conception rate amongst under-18 year olds stated as being 70.6 “which is 1.8 times the national average of 39 births per 1,000;”
3) homicide rate is more than twice the national average at 2.5, with the 2011 period being the worst year for homicides;
4) despite decreases in both weapons crime and violent crime over the recent years, the number of incidents still remains well above the national trends;
5) the public disorder rate “rose to a staggering 1,126 incidents per 100,000 people peaking in 2009”, which was more than three times the 10 year national average.
The report stated that “Over 60% of households are deprived in housing, education, health and/or employment.”
Page 14 of the report profiled and explained the low peace ratings for Hackney and Tower Hamlets.
The description of Hackney highlighted that “It was one of the areas that saw rioting and looting during the London riots in 2011.” The report summarized the borough’s social profile with emphasis on the fact that “Education rates are poor with 20% of the population not having any education qualifications. 37% of households are below 60% of the median income and 70% can experience deprivation in education, employment, housing, and/or health.”
Like Lewisham, Hackney’s poor rating was based on homicide, weapons and violent crime .
Tower Hamlets scored badly by sharing high homicide, violent and weapons crimes statistics. It is an area with high public disorder: “The 10-year public disorder rate average is around 2.3 times the national average at 811 per 100,000.” The report said “two-thirds of people living in Tower Hamlets are classified as being deprived, and 20% of people do not have any educational qualifications.” Reference was made to a report published by End Child Poverty which ranked Tower Hamlets as “the worse local area with regards to poverty, with an estimated 57% of children living in poverty in 2010.”
Reporting by Dea Cisar, Lucy Johnson, Hannah Newton and Hana Walker-Brown.