Way back in the olden days of the last Tory government there was a constant, consistent and absolutely correct criticism made by Tony Blair and the Labour Party. Crime statistics being used by the Government were out of step with available data from Police records. The Government of the day used the British Crime Survey which dealt with attitudes and perceptions towards crime as well as extrapolation of figures of total crime from sample sets.
At the same time, Blair and the Labour Party said that the BCS under-estimated the crime figures when it was held up in comparison to the actual recorded crime figures held by the Police. That criticism remains as correct today as it was then. The only difference is that Labour in power have decided the opposite. The British Crime Survey contains good news at a time when teenagers are killing each other on an almost daily basis.
So, as the Times lead story reports today, the Government intend to announce, using the BCS, that we've never had it so good when it comes to crime actually. They have succeeded where the Tories failed will be the line. I can hear the voice of Jacqui Smith or some other minister already. 'Yes, we have a problems in certain areas, but actually, overall crime is dramatically down and that's because of the long term tough measures we have put in place. Measure which the Opposition have failed to back'.
Of course, no one will believe the statistics, and when I say no one I mean ordinary people many of whom don't see the point in voting anymore anyway. Just like with the NHS, no amount of tubthumping from the Government will detract from what people's personal experience is. Try and tell a law-abiding family living on one of the worst estates in the country that crime is actually down and they will laugh at the absurdity. This is the problem Brown and his Government now face.
Trust in politicians being at an all time low feeds into this of course, but the Government has lost its way because it has to rely on speaking in statistics that are contradicted by the electorates real world experience. This is especially the case on crime. It is also not helped by the Government's response to the issue of knife crime. By reacting with fanfare and a 'something must be done' attitude they simultaneously undermine their own claims about crime.
In fact, underneath this we can actually see a defining theme for the Brown Administration. It is moving along, but unlike a car which can turn whenever its driver chooses, it is more like a train where the track becomes the news agenda and it has no control over. When a junction comes up it can only go the way the junction is set. The Brown Administration has become reactive rather than the proactive administration of Blair.
This is also where it shares much in common and parallel with the fate of the Major Administration. As the country repulsed at the Jamie Bulger murder and the Dunblane killings, the Government was in reactive mode and was holding up the BCS to say that things were not as bad as all that whilst simulatenously trying to be tough with rushed out legislation. Thoughout this Blair capitalised and expressed what everyone was really thinking.
The country is now leading Brown rather than Brown leading the country, and shouting out about achievements are increasingly falling on deaf ears, especially on the issue of crime. Cameron on the other hand is tapping into what people are genuinely thinking and actually doing the "leadership" thing that Brown is not.
Well said. This is such a good post that I hope it gets wider viewing than just your blog (no disrespect intended.
Good stuff and keep it up!
Good point, well made.
One of the infuriating things about tracking crime over time is that it takes no account of external factors over which the government and its policies have no control.
For example; when I was growing up one of the most common crimes visible in virtually all areas was a car with its side window smashed and stereo nicked. Hell, it happened to me about ten years ago. But in practice these days it's almost impossible to nick a modern (as in, made in the past six or seven years) car stereo, as they're all integrated deep into the car's electronics. So as a result one of the most common crimes disappears virtually overnight, and a huge chunk of reported (for they were all reported; just to get the crime numbers) crimes disappears.
Conversely, some crimes people just won't bother to report. If somebody mugs you for your wallet, what are you likely to lose of value? Whatever cash you've got on you at the time - maybe twenty quid? What's the point in reporting that? (Nobody really expects to get a call the next day; "good morning Sir, this is the police; we've found your wallet and we're pleased to say the £20 note is still in there. If you can just tell me the serial number it's yours...") And you just call your bank to cancel your cards. So there might very well be a crime there that's on the up, but because it's not reported, has no impact on figures.
Which all just adds weight to that old adage; "eight out of ten statistics are made up on the spot."
I agree. Brown's government has become purely reactive waiting for the event to crash upon them rather than head it off earlier i.e Northern Rock, Fuel Tax, 10p Tax etc. If you are not in control you are not leading.
The trouble is our glorious unelected Leader actually believes his own spin now.
Ed, you can add to that the dramatic decrease in the cost of electronic and white goods - so much so that the bottom has fallen out of the second hand market and stereos, DVD players and tellies are just not worth nicking unless in bulk. That is, by the truckload.
I wonder if there is a correlation in the drop in house burglaries and the increase in truck hijackings.
Barnacle Bill nails it - and I think the reason is that MPs are so insulated from real life now, both financially and security wise. They really no longer live in the real world and so do actually believe shite like inflation is still low.
It's true that no one believes the statistics, but surely a survey is going to be the best way of estimating the levels of common and significant crimes? If you look at recorded crime, you are mixing up the level of crime with victims' confidence in the police.
If I remember right, the BCS doesn't attempt to measure the level of murder, for example, because the sample is too small. (Also it seems unlikely that someone would be murdered without the police being involved, so the recorded crime figures are probably quite accurate in this case.)
Going down a step to crimes like burglary, I suspect that the BCS is probably quite accurate. The sample is big enough to capture a significant number of people who have been burgled. Burglary is a crime that people will remember and be willing to talk about.
Where I used to live, we would be "victims of crime" in a low level sense several times a week. Yobs would shout insults in the street, which is an offence under the Public Order Act. Stones would be thrown at the house which is an offence under the Protection from Harassment Act. The list would go on... Having had some legal training, and because I was keeping a diary for the local ASBO department, I could have written this out for the BCS if I had been part of the sample. With this type of crime, though, most people probably wouldn't know exactly what was illegal and wouldn't have accurate records. As a result the BCS would understate crime at this end of the scale.
As a result, the BCS figures that the government is going to announce will not cover the anti-social type crime that people experience, and it won't cover the murders they read about in the tabloids. That's probably why people think the figures are bogus.
It's worth mentioning that the BCS under-represents groups (ethnic minorities, the poor, "socially excluded"), and in the case of minors specifically excludes, from their calculations.
So black teenagers stabbing each other are not reflected in the BCS. That's why it shows violent crime falling.
As far as recorded crime is concerned, it's only recorded if it's first reported. Gang members don't report being stabbed by another gang member. Simple.
BCS doesn't cover under 16s.
Polly Toynbee is a great fan of BCS.
Two reasons not to pay too much attention to it.
You write "Just like with the NHS, no amount of tubthumping from the Government will detract from what people's personal experience is"
In fact for the NHS the actual experience of patients is some 25 percetage points better than what the public say about how they think the NHS in general is doing. If you experience healthcare you tend to be positive about it. Ipsos MORI's polling finds patient experience levels of around 85% positive. Ben Page, their CEO, suggests that patients answer about their actual experience but when someone who has not used healthcare is asked about the NHS they tend to think about the government and, if they don't like it they tend to assume the NHS can't be doing well. Using GPs is the only area where patient and public opinion are aligned and this may be because many people use GPs whereas the use of other NHS services is much rarer.
There is a distinct danger that the more an unpopular govt does the worse people feel about the NHS. The same problem you highlight here. Even if you have a good policy you may get little credit and your good news won't be believed.
Is the same thing happening here with the added boost of a moral panic on knife crime?
It may not be perfect but the BCS does provide a useful indication of how things are compared to at other times. And it shows a 48% drop in experienced crime since 1995.
Continuing in the spirit of Nigel's post - the BCS also finds that people on average think that crime in their area is falling, but that crime nationally is rising. Can any of the "statistics are lies, crime is totally rocketing" brigade explain what factors, other than media panic, could explain this discrepancy?
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