Thursday, January 24, 2008

Laws, Damned Lies and Statistics.

I may have mentioned before that for some inexplicable reason, David Laws infuriates me more than any other Liberal Democrat - and that's a pretty high bar.
He appeared on Question Time tonight and showed his grasp of the facts with the following statements.
'Crime hasn't just gone up in the last few years it went up massively in the 1970s and 1980s... we do have high levels of crime in this country'
He was then pressed by Dimbles
'Do you buy into the new figures showing overall recorded crime falling...'
'No, because if you look at what most politicians when pressed and most independent observers when pressed say are the credible figures, the British Crime Survey figures, actually they are pretty static at the moment and they do indicate violent crime is still going up'
At best, Mr Laws is guilty of being economical with the truth. At worst, he's telling barefaced lies for political advantage - spreading a little bit of unhappiness as he goes by.
I've tackled this little bit of fearmongering before, when I slated the Tories way back in 2004 and found allies in the police during the campaign, but we've seen new figures from the BCS. This is a survey that has been conducted regularly since 1981 and annually since 2001 that doesn't rely on the crime reported to police - while 93% of vehicle thefts are reported, only 32% of vandalism offences get a crime number. The survey asks 40,000 people a year of their personal experiences of being a victim. As I've pointed out before, 1200 is enough to give a pretty accurate result of a general election, so the BCS should give us a reasonable idea of how things really are for a certain spectrum of crimes.
So what IS the truth, based upon these credible figures?

This graph shows BCS total crimes, reported crime and - usefully - a reminder that we've got more than 4 million more adults kicking around and ready to provide their fair share of criminal behaviour.

Now, David, does that show a record of rising crime according to the BCS? Nope. Not in the slightest. In fact, you are less likely to be a victim of crime now than at any time for more than a quarter of a century - since statistics of this accuracy were first compiled. And for completeness, here's the graph including the most recent results.
The shrewd readers will spot a slight upturn in the past couple of years. The professional statisticians who compile the report note that

Overall, the BCS shows no significant change in crime (for the second year running) and police recorded crime shows a two per cent decrease

Hey - why not go back further. Here's a slightly older parliamentary report into statistical reporting, which contains this graph of reported indictable offences over the last century. That has to be taken with a generous pinch of salt, as reporting has increased over the years, but it is instructive, as you will see that crime is slipping back.

Or perhaps we'll just look at the past few years. Here's the change in offences since 1995. Double asterisks indicate statistically significant changes

Crime is down - all the facts point towards it. Hey - have another graph. I'm spoiling you tonight.So do you think that the newspapers will focus on the positive changes in the crime figures or do you think we'll be told that gun crime is rife after an increase from a relatively low base?

Here's the BCS on violent crime
The number of violent crimes experienced by adults showed no statistically significant change between 2005/06 and 2006/07 BCS interviews. Police recorded violence against the person fell by one per cent between 2005/06 and 2006/07, the first fall in eight years.
Just under half (49%) of all violent incidents reported to the BCS did not result in any injury to the victim. A similar proportion (50%) of all police recorded violence against the person in 2006/07 involved no injury.

Recorded sexual offences fell by seven per cent between 2005/06 and 2006/07.
The majority (98%) of recorded violence against the person crimes were other offences against the person, the least serious grouping.

There were 755 homicides recorded by police in 2006/07, the smallest total for eight years. There were one per cent fewer homicides than in 2005/06, although the 2005/06 total was increased by the London bombings in July 2005.

It isn't all rosy, as robbery increased by 3% according to the police reporting. The BCS added that
The number of violent crimes remained stable between 2005/06 and 2006/07 BCS
interviews (the apparent increases from 2005/06 or 2004/05 are not statistically

There was a increase in the police recording of gun crime, with an additional 427 offences reported, to give a total of 10,182, but these were mainly non-injury offences and the number of gun-related deaths actually fell in the year to September 2007, from 55 to 49. Still, we can expect the politicians and the media to lead on their specialised subject tomorrow - fear.

What is certain is that we are not best served by a climate of fear and paranoia developed by cheap headlines and politicians.

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