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Poverty and crime
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By C. ben-David

We are walking for jobs, that is, to protest the joblessness, especially for young people in this country. We are walking against crime” (Godwin Friday, leader, New Democratic Party [NDP], St. Vincent and the Grenadines [SVG], September 8, 2018). 


Over the past year or so, the main NDP opposition party has been trying to rally its base on issues it believes have political traction by propagandising what its leader has repeatedly said is a direct causal link between the country’s crime and unemployment levels.

I have already disputed this assertion in a previous discussion of the crime of murder in the country. But a single essay on such a complex topic did not permit the discussion of several keys issues: (1) the relation between murder and other criminal acts; (2) a comparison of our murder and crimes rates to those of our Caribbean neighbours; (3) how our murder and other crime rates stack up on a global scale; (4) the development of crime and murder over time; and (5) the fluctuation, causes, and consequences of murder and other crimes.

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The relentless public, media, and official interest in crime in general and murder in particular requires much more description and analysis.

There is a widespread popular belief in SVG, promulgated by the NDP, that the main determinant of our high and allegedly growing crime rate are factors like acute poverty (also called “indigence” — not being able to satisfy minimal needs for food, potable water, sanitation facilities, clothing, shelter, healthcare, education, and other necessities), relative poverty (having a standard of living below the average of a society or community even if this standard is well above that of indigence), and chronic unemployment (being without a job or other means of livelihood for long periods of time).

All indigent persons are also relatively poor but not vice versa: many relatively poor people have adequate access to the basic necessities of life from a national and regional perspective.

The direct causal link between these three types of economic adversity and participation in criminal activity may be called a popular belief because it is widely shared by ordinary people, rich and poor alike. But this does not make it a scientifically proven assertion, in SVG or elsewhere, as I will show in this series of essays.

First, however, some definitions are required to ensure that we are all talking about the same issues.

Criminal activity is generally divided between property crime (burglary, larceny, embezzlement, looting, vandalism, and fraud) and violent offences (murder, robbery, physical assault, and rape).

Robbery, in contrast to larceny (often called theft), is stealing property that involves face-to-face interaction using physical force, intimidation (for example, employing a weapon), and/or coercion (threatening to harm or kill the victim). Burglary, in contrast to both larceny and robbery, is the entering of a building or residence with the intention to commit a theft or other felonious crime.

Everyone, including social scientists, always prefer the simplest explanation that explains even the most complex of facts. The simplest folk or popular explanation of crime is that it is disproportionately the activity of desperately poor people. The most obvious criticism of this assertion (others are given below and throughout this series) is that the overwhelming proportion of poor people wherever in the world they live do not engage in criminal behaviour. For this reason, it is both factually incorrect and highly offensive to our low-income citizens to claim that “… the criminals seem to have taken over the country,” as Opposition Leader Godwin Friday did on Monday, July 31, 2018.

Nor was Friday correct to repeatedly and mono-causally reduce the crime level to economic distress: “I will repeat here what I have said many times elsewhere, there is a causal connection between economic hardship and an increase in crime.”

This is not to deny that there is no relation between some of the crimes listed above and poverty, inequality, and unemployment but only that there are many other variables that are at least as important, if not more so, in determining the nature of various crime rates.

Unfortunately, there is only a single publicly available data set for SVG taken from a United States government source for the period beginning with 2012 summarising the distribution of selected crimes in SVG over the past few years. As with so many other areas where public information is scarce or unavailable, secrecy and/or negligence seem to be the order of the day as far as the current regime is concerned when discussing historical crime rates.

Notwithstanding the dearth of comprehensive current crime information, except for the murder rate, a figure the government cannot easily hide, Table 1 summarizes the crime statistics for the nine years 2008-2016 period (with the 2008-2012 data gathered from local statistics).

Table 1. Reported Crimes in SVG, 2008-2016

Offence 2008 2009 2010    2011    2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Murder      27      20      24        21      28 24 38 26 40
Sexual assault    171    207    168      459    175 229 228 196 236
Robbery      47      68    120      166    167 149 80 86 77
Other assault** 1,735 1,975 2,020 2,158 1,770
Property** 3,722 4,258 4,602 5,222 4,524
Other** 2,993 3,056 2,943 3,182 2,853
Total 8,695 9,584 9,877 11,208 9,690 n.a.* n.a. n.a. n.a

*data not available; ** data not available for 2013-2016

The contents of this tabulated data will be discussed in the next essay in this series.


This is the second in a series of essays on crime and the economy in SVG. Find them all here.


The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected]

The opinions presented in this content belong to the author and may not necessarily reflect the perspectives or editorial stance of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

10 replies on “What’s the link between crime and poverty in SVG?”

  1. “There is a widespread popular belief in SVG, promulgated by the NDP, that the main determinant of our high and allegedly growing crime rate are factors like acute poverty…. ” Really? By the NDP? Wasn’t this a longstanding belief or do you just want to attack the NDP. This is an old and worldwide belief. Please keep it balanced.
    Next to quote “… the criminals seem to have taken over the country,” as Opposition Leader Godwin Frday is reported to have said and then claim it’s an insult to low income citizens seem to hide a political agenda on your part. If you had said the no-income population instead, I might have thought otherwise.
    This could be an informative series of essays or an effort to promote your political agenda. I prefer the former.

    1. Dr. Friday has repeatedly said that the main determinant of what he says is our high and growing crime rate is unemployment. Do you deny this? Do you want me to ignore this? I have no political axe to grind. None.

      Whether such an unscientfic belief (why I call it a popular belief) is shared around the world is neither here nor there. My intent is to discuss the scientifically understood causes crime and how they compare to the popular beliefs, including when these popular beliefs are propaganized by politicians who should and do know better.

  2. When Cain killed his brother,, was poverty in the world? Why was there so much killing in the years of the NDP and the Labour party in office? Tell them to stop put the blame on poverty,,we are living in a world of sin,a world that man is controlling,and not the creator,,a matter of fact this Jesus Christ

    1. 1. What is your evidence, except for unproven Bible stories, that there were ever such people as Cain and Able or hat the former murdered the latter? Faith is your only proof, a form of evidence that has no scientific standing.

      2. Don’t you believe that everything is the will of god, including murder? Yes, there free will but this free will was also given to mankind by God and can be taken away by God if He wishs to do so. Since he does not wish to do so, He is ultimately responsible for all the murders in the world.

      3. It is well documented that the murder rate during the NDP years was very low — one or two a year — and that this rate has escalated since 2001 when the current regime took power.

      But this in no way proves that any of the policies or practices of the ULP have been responsible for the escalation in the murder rate since 2001.

      Let us stick to known facts and leave Bible stories for Sunday School.

  3. The causes of crime are clearly far more complicated than just “unemployment” with many researchers identifying numerous factors such as family circumstances (quality of parenting, expectations, etc), neighbourhood (informal social controls, existing incidence of crime), quality of education, alcohol and drug consumption, inequality/opportunities, lax law enforcement, etc.

    Generally, the higher the number of adverse factors the greater the likelihood of criminal behaviour. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that high unemployment tends to raise the incidence of these adverse factors, thereby increasing likelihood of criminal behaviour.

    It would therefore stand to reason that persistent, chronically high unemployment/under employment DOES lead to increased crime, coupled with increased exposure to unattainable luxury lifestyles and it seems the recipe for a perfect crime storm.

    The government’s response clearly needs to be multifaceted but a conducive environment for job creation is a must.

    1. I cannot disagree with the thrust of you analysis,only with your and others chronic overemphasis on unemployment.

      If truth be told, a large number of our employed and wealthy people are engaged in various sorts of often undetected or unpunished criminal behaviour including various kinds of theft, embezzlement, fraud, money laundering, physical assault, and sexual assault. How the hell do you think many of them got so rich or were able to secure well paying employment or got away with sexually exploiting under-age children except through chicanery or using their high status and connections.

      How the hell do you think they avoided being lawfully charged for illlegal behaviour except for using their high status and wealth to avoid prosecution.

      Exaggerating the role of poverty and unemployment merely stereotypes poor people, most of whom do not engage in any type of criminal activity.

      Leave poor people out of your moralizing. They have enough problems as it is.

  4. Thoughtful debate. I would like to see some numbers on the crime rate, especially murders before 2000. If the 21st century ushered in a major shift in the murder rates in SVG what are the numbers that demonstrate this and what are the reasons that explain this shift? The standard answer across multiple sources identify the drug trade as the key catalyst. Are they wrong?

    1. The numbers before 2001 were about one or two murders a year at most. Yes, the drug trade changed this.

  5. As a Vincentian living in the Diaspora, I would like to see more discussion of this magnitude coming from my fellow compatriots. I thought most of the commentaries touched on issues that deserves to be taken seriously and must be extended into level headed dialogue! keep the conversation going, folks!

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