The Serious and Organised Crime Threat in the UK: A Growing Concern

Evelyn Woodland
Oct 18, 2023

The National Crime Agency (NCA) launched its latest National Strategic Assessment (NSA) in May 2019, highlighting that a conservative figure estimates that at least 181,000 people are linked to Serious and Organised Crime (SOC) in the UK.

Launching the NSA, Lynne Owens, Director General of the NCA, commented that SOC in the UK is ‘chronic and corrosive’ on a ‘truly staggering’ scale. It ‘kills more people every year than terrorism, war and natural disasters combined’, affecting ‘more UK citizens, more frequently than any other national security threat’.

The same report put the cost to the UK at £37 billion per annum – approximately £2000 per family.

SOC is a clear and pressing issue for national security in the UK, and more needs to be done through partnership working between government, police and voluntary sectors, as well as with appropriate educational and health interventions to address what appears to be a highly significant threat.

The Historic Significance of Serious and Organised Crime

SOC has always been a significant part of police work in the UK: the infamous ‘Flying Squad’ branch of the Metropolitan Police is testament to a historic awareness of the issue.

Yet, the 2010 National Security Strategy (NSS) – the first time the UK had set out priorities and methods for protecting the public from a range of risks – barely mentioned the problem, noting only that there were around 38,000 individuals involved in SOC in the UK. It was ranked as a ‘tier two’ priority risk, below tier one risks such as terrorism, international conflict, major natural incident or cyber-attack.

However, by the time of the 2015 NSS, the issue had taken on increased governmental focus – the creation in 2013 of the NCA and the first Serious Organised Crime Strategy was supplemented in 2015 by the Serious Crime and Modern Slavery Acts, speaking to the recognition of the seriousness of the issue at hand.

Importance, Despite Brexit

The importance of dealing with and tackling SOC has continued to rise within central government and law enforcement.

One of Sajid Javid’s first priorities upon being promoted to Home Secretary was to develop and launch the 2018 Serious and Organised Crime Strategy, in which he named SOC as the ‘most deadly national security threat faced by the UK’.

This was followed by the largest funding increase for the police since 2010, totalling £970 million, of which at least £90 million was ringfenced for Serious and Organised Crime. A further £100 million Serious Violence Fund was announced in March 2019, alongside a new Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and an Economic Crime Strategic Board.

The size of the challenge is significant: the NCA has suggested that the hidden nature of SOC ensures that their figures – already extremely high – are likely a conservative underestimate, whilst Lynne Owens has called the issue 'as serious as it has been'. As the NCA calls for a near-doubling of their budget to almost £1 billion to effectively tackle the issue, it is becoming increasingly clear that Serious and Organised Crime is a prescient issue on the UK political agenda, set to demand increasing amounts of attention from the government.

This article was written by Will Paul

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