Crime and Punishment
Big Question Crime in the 20th Century Main page

What was the most important factor affecting crime in the 20th Century?

The BIG QUESTION in this Strand is about how much crime has changed over the centuries. There are several factors which affect crime in any period. The 20th century saw big changes in almost every one of them:

  • The economy. By the early 20th century many of the old industries on which Britain's industrial supremacy had been based were in decline. In the 1930s depression they were hit hard: national unemployment in 1933 was 22%, but in parts of northern England, Scotland and Wales it was much higher. Some people did not have a job for twenty years. At the same time, new industries: electricity, radio, cars, household goods sprung up in new areas. There were thus huge contrasts of wealth and poverty between areas and between classes for much of the century. In the search for work, people increasingly moved around the country, making communities less stable and people more unknown to each other.
  • Technology. Several new inventions had effects on crime, but the greatest of these by far was the motorcar (see Case Study 1). Aeroplanes made international transport and smuggling easier. The impact of new forms of entertainment, particularly the cinema and TV, worried many people. By the end of the century, the widespread use of computers created new kinds of crime.
  • Government. In the twentieth century governments took on new roles: the "Welfare State", begun by the Liberals, 1906-14, and continued by the Labour governments of 1945-51, gave greater security to all citizens. For the first time in History, there was no danger of starving to death, or dying in total poverty. There was free medical care on the National Health Service and universal, free education to 16. The government also created laws intended to change attitudes, such as outlawing sex and race discrimination.
  • War. The two World Wars,1914-18 and 1939-45, brought all kinds of changes. Apart from the destruction of homes and towns, family life was disrupted by conscription and evacuation. The government acquired all kinds of new powers to intervene in people's lives.
  • Beliefs. At the same time, religious belief declined. Attitudes were shaped more by TV and newspapers than by the churches.

Did all these factors affect crime equally? Which was the most important?
In the Case-Studies of this Gallery of the Crime Strand you will find examples of all these factors affecting crime. It is your task to analyse which is the most important.

Four Case-Studies:
1. Car Crime
2. Smuggling
3. Young People
4. Crime Figures

How to Work
1. Work through each of these Case-Studies. Read and analyse the Sources in each. There are HINTS in each Case-Study to help you get the most out of the Sources.
2. At the end of your Case-Study, fill in some of the Gallery Worksheet.
3. Move on to the next Case-Study. You will only be able to answer the Key Question when you have done most or all of the Case-Studies. However, you could divide the job around the class, sharing your results from different versions of the Gallery Worksheet.

Case Studies Case Study 1, Car Crime Case Study 2, Drug Smuggling Case Study 3, Juvenile Crime Case Study 4, Crime Figures End To Prevention, 20th Century End Case Studies To Crime, 1750-1900
Source 1 Source 2 Source 4 Source 3 Game Worksheet