Government accused of ‘misleading' public over crime reductions

The Government presented crime figures in a “misleading way”, the head of the UK Statistics Authority has said.

Feb 4, 2022
By Website Editor
Sir David Norgrove

The authority opened an investigation after it received complaints over allegations the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary falsely claimed crime had fallen under their leadership.

In the House of Commons earlier this week, Boris Johnson said “we have been cutting crime by 14 per cent”. Last week, a Home Office press release said latest data showed “crime continues to fall under this Government”, quoting Priti Patel as saying it demonstrated the Government’s approach “is working”.

In a letter to Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman who raised the issue, the authority’s chair,  Sir David Norgrove said: “I agree that Office for National Statistics (ONS) measures of crime must be used accurately, and not misrepresented. In this case, the Home Office news release presented the latest figures in a misleading way.

“Likewise, the Prime Minister referred to a 14 per cent reduction in crime, which is the change between the year ending September 2019 and the year ending September 2021. This figure also excludes fraud and computer misuse, though the Prime Minister did not make that clear.

“If fraud and computer misuse are counted in total crime as they should be, total crime in fact increased by 14 per cent between the year ending September 2019 and the year ending September 2021.

“We have written to the Home Office and to the offices of the Prime Minister and Home Secretary to draw their attention to this exchange.”

Mr Carmichael said: “This is a damning verdict from the official watchdog. Yet more distortions from Boris Johnson and his Cabinet to play down the extent of crime.

“When the Government’s record on crime is so bad that both the Prime Minister and Home Secretary feel the need to fiddle the figures, it is clear we need a new approach.

“The Prime Minister must come before Parliament to apologise for his latest lie and set the record straight.”

Despite a fall in most crimes during coronavirus lockdowns, some are now reaching or exceeding pre-pandemic levels – with rises in some offences like fraud offsetting reductions seen elsewhere, the ONS said last week.

The figures also showed police recorded the highest number of rapes and sexual offences in a 12-month period, while separate Home Office data detailed how the proportion of suspects being taken to court has fallen to a new record low and remains the lowest for rape cases.

Sir David added: “The Home Office news release in two places presented the statistics to give a positive picture of trends in crime in England and Wales, based on a fall in total crime excluding fraud and computer misuse of 17 per cent between the year ending June 2019 and the year ending September 2021. The exclusion was stated.

“However, in the title and in two other places the release refers to a fall in crime, without making clear that this is true only if fraud and computer misuse are excluded.

“The ONS bulletin quite properly includes fraud and computer misuse in total crime. Those offences are then separated out in part to allow comparison with the long-term data series and in part to be able to show that the sharp rise in fraud and computer misuse, as measured via the telephone-operated Crime Survey for England and Wales, ‘more than offset the reductions seen for other types of crime’.

“The ONS assessment, as argued in the bulletin, is that the pandemic and associated restrictions were the main drivers of recent trends in the relevant types of crime, and it would have been helpful if the Home Office news release had acknowledged this.”

The UK Statistics Authority works to “promote and safeguard official statistics to serve the public good”, including “regulating the quality and publicly challenging the misuse of statistics”.

It can intervene if it considers a politician or government department has misused or misrepresented figures and has not adhered to a code of practice.

The Cabinet Office’s Ministerial Code of Conduct says it is of “paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister”.

It adds: “Ministers need to be mindful of the UK Statistics Authority’s Code of Practice which defines good practice in relation to official statistics, observance of which is a statutory requirement on all organisations that produce National Statistics in accordance with the provisions of the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007.”

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