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Crime slicing and dicing confidence

Consumer and business confidence indices inched up marginally in the third quarter of 2023 but crime continues to weigh on the growth of the indices.

Consumer and business confidence hit 161.1 points and 144.7 points, respectively. Both indices started at 100 points in 2001 when the survey began. The consumer confidence grew by two percentage points since the second quarter and the business index grew 4.7 points.

“Crime and violence is a major concern,” said pollster Don Anderson during the release of the JCC Business & Consumer Indices by the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.

Anderson, whose firm Marketing Research Services, conducts the surveys on behalf of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, explained that nearly six of out of every 10 consumers cited crime as the number one problem facing Jamaica at this time.

“This was particularly expressed in persons from the lower income group and women above 55 years and over,” he said at the release of their third quarter surveys on Tuesday.

The situation was similar for business respondents with nearly half citing crime as the number one factor retarding plans to expand and grow.

“Like consumers, firms generally agree it is the number one issue that the Government of Jamaica should address,” he said.

Nearly half of 115 business respondents cited crime as the number one factor retarding plans to expand and grow.

The confidence indices were presented under the theme, Vision: Business in a crime-free environment. The session also included a panel discussion.

“Crime has been the cry from our members of the private sector over the years,” said Lloyd Distant in his capacity as chairman of the non-aligned Crime Monitoring Oversight Committee. “So, there was no surprise there.”

Distant cited a nearly decade-old international report that indicated that the small island would grow several fold were crime reduced towards global norms. Distant said that equates to over “$100 billion” in additional funds for government spending.

“It has a huge impact on the economy,” he said.

Saffry Brown, project director of Project STAR, said an important element to crime reduction is increased educational opportunities for youth. The Government earlier this year removed fees at HEART/NSTA Trust seen as the largest skills training institute. Brown said that most jobs within communities are low-value jobs and HEART can serve as a “stepping-stone” for their careers.

“We need to reduce barriers and open up access to young people. It was a really important move at HEART/NSTA …; to make sure that any and everybody can access the training is important,” she said. “The private sector needs to make sure that we support that by allowing access to jobs.”

Dane Nicholson, head of the fraud prevention unit at NCB Financial Group, pointed to a nexus between cybercriminality and traditional criminality, with one being the potential feeder of the other. Curtailing that connection starts at the basic level of consumer education, he said.

“What needs to happen is we have to increase customer education so that they know what to do. Like a strict no-click and no-link policy. Unfortunately, we have too many people clicking,” said Nicholson.

“They [criminals] make a lot of money from cybercrime globally and they are going to purchase guns that can be used to wreak havoc on our friends and family,” he warned.

Anderson, who is the executive chairman of Market Research Services Limited, said on Tuesday that he added a new question to the confidence survey on the most critical issues facing the country and what can be done about it. The question was open-ended and respondents could answer in any manner.

More than half, 58 per cent, cited crime and violence, 17 per cent said unemployment, poverty was cited by 7.0 per cent and corruption and favouritism by 4.9 per cent of respondents.

Those of the 635 consumer respondents who mentioned crime as the most critical issue also noted that criminality would likely increase over the next 12 months.

“It is worrying to note that over 60 per cent feel that crime and violence will get worse and only 11 per cent believe there will be a reduction, so people are not optimistic,” Anderson said.

Turning to crime solutions, 34 per cent cited more youth jobs, 30 per cent programmes for the unemployed, 29 per cent wanted more stringent penalties and fines, and 26 per cent cited application of the death penalty. Only one per cent recommended the use of technology such as video surveillance, although 19 per cent cited better policing.

Overall, consumer confidence in the economy showed signs of improvement. Some 15 per cent of consumer respondents thought that current conditions were bad which reflected an improvement from the 22 per cent a year earlier. However, 26 per cent of consumers expected job prospects to worsen, compared to 25 per cent a year earlier. Those who expect better job prospects declined to 26 per cent from 35 per cent.

Nonetheless, more consumers were thinking of spending on big-ticket purchases. Those planning to buy homes rose from 8.8 per cent to 13 per cent; car buying plans rose from 18 per cent to 23 per cent; and for vacations from 29 per cent to 38 per cent.

Consumer confidence at 159.9 points is yet to return to the pre-pandemic level of 180 points; business confidence at 140 points is close to 143.6 points recorded in 2019.

The top five reasons cited by consumers for expectations of a worsening economy in the next year are high cost of living, lack of employment, increase in crime, Government not assisting enough, and unstable foreign exchange.

Despite low unemployment of 4.5 per cent, consumers are still wary of the jobs market. In a reiteration of views held a year ago, consumers said they expect jobs will soon be in short supply.

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