The Labour Party should focus on tackling rural crime
The Labour Party’s ‘animal welfare manifesto’, as announced today, covers a range of rural topics. From improving accessibility to vets for those living in remote areas, to banning the live export of animals for slaughter, changing the Hunting Act, banning the use and sale of snares, and implementing a review into the economic, environmental and wildlife impacts of driven grouse shooting.
The party’s plan, with this manifesto, is to paint themselves as ‘the party of animal welfare’. As Sue Hayman, the Shadow Secretary of State for Efra said in the manifesto announcement, ‘Labour must be at the forefront of driving through the next phase of progress in the journey towards better animal welfare standards that are up to date and fit for purpose’.
But as a whole, the raft of announcements seems more designed to appeal to urban voters than rural England and their needs. Labour have announced a funding boost of £4.5million to the policing of wildlife crimes, doubling the number of trained officers to 170. That’s all very well. But rural communities and, within that, the moorland communities are subject to various rural crimes which they would love the police to tackle. Fly tipping, farm thefts (including machinery, fuel and livestock), as well as illegal access to land are all issues that the rural community would like the police to address.
The National Farmers’ Union’s rural crime report showed than in 2018, the cost of rural crime in the UK reached its highest since 2011 – a total of £49.9million. Agri-vehicle theft was the biggest issue in terms of monetary loss, but fly tipping (which is now increasingly hazardous waste and large items, not ‘just’ and old kitchen or mattress), hare coursing and livestock theft are all hugely damaging to people who live in the countryside. An increase in the theft of guns from rural properties is another worry, as it is suspected that these are often then used for further crimes. From 2017 to 2018, reported thefts of firearms rose by 45%.
The amount of rural crime also contributes to the issue of rural isolation; if rural crime is increasing, people feel more and more vulnerable in their homes. As North Yorkshire’s Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Julie Mulligan has said before: ‘Rural communities should not have to put up with sub-standard services just because of where they live. This simply cannot be tolerated. Despite passionate and professional police officers working incredibly hard day-in, day-out, the communities they serve are being let down because priorities lie elsewhere.’
There is also the worry that the NFU’s list of rural crime is just the tip of the iceberg. As people feel increasingly isolated and abandoned by the police and authorities, they stop reporting crimes. Why bother, if nothing is done?
If the Labour party truly wanted to improve the lives of rural dwellers, these are some of the things they should address with their pledge to increase police numbers. There are serious crimes going on in the countryside that affect people's lives on a daily basis. Rural communities are isolated enough as things are, and issues such as terrible broadband, poor transport links, and the closure of pubs and post offices. These are the issues that any political party should tackle if they want to appeal to rural voters.