Europe's most violent nation

The British are more likely to be the victims of serious crime than the citizens of any of the industrialised nations. We face the highest level of assaults in Europe. There is more risk of being robbed on our streets than in the United States. Faced with such yobbery, is it any wonder that we are so unwilling to have a go at criminals?

Ministers respond by bemoaning our fear of crime, assuring us that it has fallen. But the public knows what it sees. While technology has enabled a decline in property-based crimes such as car thefts and burglaries, overall recorded crime has risen under this government and violence has soared.

Unsurprisingly, the government prefers a measure - the British Crime Survey - which paints a rosier picture. But the survey excludes key crimes, not least those against young people, the frequent victims of street crime. The true level of crime is three times higher than the survey suggests - a staggering 30m offences a year.

We are told that more offenders are being "brought to justice". But fewer than half of these actually involve a conviction in court and the police now issue on-the-spot fines once every three minutes. Half of these glorified parking tickets are unpaid, but they still count towards the government's target.

The idea behind the new justice ministry was to join up justice. But while the home secretary says that prison works, the justice secretary is questioning it and judges are being told to avoid custodial sentences.

This week the Sentencing Advisory Panel urged community penalties for fraudsters and a reduction in prison terms for breaches of Asbos. While the government talks tough on antisocial behaviour, its flagship measure is watered down.

The single most obvious way to reassure the public and prevent crime is to put police officers on the streets. But the government that spouts platitudes about rebuilding trust in politics has reneged on its manifesto pledge to recruit 24,000 police community support officers (PCSOs).

While fully empowered police officers grapple with paperwork and spend less than a fifth of their time on the beat, we learn that some of the PCSOs who have been recruited are just 16 years old and one is to tackle offenders from a skateboard.

Cuts in police numbers and prisons full to bursting point have one common cause: Gordon Brown, who as chancellor froze the Home Office budget and refused new prison capacity. Now, as violent offenders are released onto the streets, robust sentencing is undermined and public concern about violent crime mounts, ministers watch as if paralysed. The government has been hoist with its own petard.  

Michelle Taylor