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Home > Politics

Lies, more lies and damned statistics. And lies

8 October 2004

A think-tank has found that the Government's crime figures are a big bucket of shit. These weren't the exact words, but the think-tank's report damningly said that the British Crime Survey (BCS) is not a reliable indicator of crime levels.

This is a bummer for David Blunkett, because New Labour has been claiming that crime has been cut by 25 per cent under Labour (as supported by the BCS, Labour's favourite crime indicator) and that the chance of becoming a victim of crime is at its lowest for 20 years. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, as they say, and the BCS is quite clearly not that.

Most reasonable people would accept that crime figures are difficult to compile for various familiar reasons, such as increased reporting of certain types of crime (eg. rape, domestic violence) and whole new crimes like mobile phone theft. The government can be forgiven for getting some of its statistics wrong occasionally, surely?

We're not so sure. If the BCS is wrong, then Blunkett and Blair have been consistently lying about crime. It's been a big lie and it's been a successful lie. Countless liberal commentators and fair-minded people have accepted the party line that crime is falling. The figures support it and it fits with the idea that Labour has done a lot to alleviate poverty, which in theory should reduce crime. Wanting to believe that crime is falling is also perhaps a gut reaction to the ludicrous hysteria of the right-wing press, who want us to believe we could be murdered at any second because it suits the agenda of their anti-Labour editors and owners.

But look at the bigger picture. Crime-wise, has anything really changed that much since Labour came to power? Are there thousands more policemen? We think there might be quite a few more, but not loads. Have we got more efficient courts processing cases quicker and better? No. Are social services solving the social problems that contribute to petty crime (eg. getting 'problem' children back into education) at an unprecedented rate? A bit, it would seem. Is drug rehab much better than it used to be? 'In some places' seems to be the answer.

None of this represents a sea change, and in the absence of any massive change you'd expect overall levels of crime to stay the same, save for the odd rise when someone invents an exciting new ghetto fabulous product like crack, or the odd drop when you get rid of quasi-crimes like possessing dope.

The upshot of all this is that three things could be happening. Either New Labour's 'tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime' strategy, with its multi-agency approach and innovations such as ASBOs, has worked and crime is falling. Or crime rates are remaining steady. Or crime is worse.

You or I can't work out for ourselves whether crime is rising or falling, at least not in the short term. Personal experience of crime is, happily, usually rare and thus statistically irrelevant - unless you got mugged 200 times in 2003 and only 10 times in 2004. In which case you're most probably just extremely unlucky.
(Or lucky, if you're a 'glass-half-full' person.)

You can make a common sense judgement that if you're not affected by crime very often, then there probably isn't some crime bonanza taking place. But it's still not a nice thought that the government is prepared to make wild claims about crime dropping dramatically on dubious evidence. Or to put it another way: systematically lying to the general population.

Is it just us, or is anyone else getting a sense of déjà vu?

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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