Is crime now starting to rise?

14 October 2015
What was claimed

Crime is starting to rise.

Our verdict

Crime is falling in England and Wales according to the Crime Survey. Police are recording more violent and sexual offences but these may not reflect genuine rises in the crimes.

"crime [is] starting to rise"

Andy Burnham, Shadow Home Secretary, 30 September 2015

This is wrong. Crime overall is falling in England and Wales, not rising, according to the best available estimates. New figures will be released tomorrow.

We were told by Mr Burnham's office that he meant to refer to specific kinds of crime which have seen an increase in recording over the last year. We can't be certain even these trends are genuine.

Crime as experienced and recounted by adults continues to fall

Our best measure of crime over time—the Crime Survey for England and Wales—has shown crime falling consistently since its recent peak in 1995. It's now at its lowest recorded level.

A lot of people would baulk at that statistic. Most people say they think crime has been rising nationally over the last few years. Only a third, though, think it's been rising in their local area.

The Crime Survey alone can't answer everything. For instance, it doesn't tell us about crimes without specific victims, such as those against businesses or government. But it captures crimes that aren't reported to the police, which we otherwise wouldn't know about.

Police recorded crime rising, but the trend may not be genuine

The police's figures don't give us reliable trends over time. While the number of crimes recorded by the police is starting to rise, a lot of this is because the police are getting better at recording crime and, in some cases, more people are coming forward to report them.

Mr Burnham's office mentioned violent crime and sexual offences as examples of crime "starting to rise". And it's true that in the police's figures, violent offences have risen 23% since last year and sexual offences are up 37%.

Neither reflects a genuine trend, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

On violence against the person the ONS said:

"this increase is thought to reflect changes in recording practices rather than a rise in violent crime. The [Crime Survey] estimate for violent crime showed no change compared with the previous year's survey, following decreases over the past 4 years."

And on sexual offences:

"As well as improvements in recording, this is also thought to reflect a greater willingness of victims to come forward to report such crimes. In contrast, the latest estimate from the [Crime Survey] showed no significant change in the proportion of adults aged 16-59 who reported being a victim of a sexual assault (including attempted assaults) in the last year (1.7%)."

The Crime Survey also found no increase in the proportion of people who were victims of rape or attempted rape in the past year. This is a difficult offence to measure as it relies on the willingness of victims to report the incidents either to the police or in a survey.

These crime figures are specific to England and Wales since there's no overall criminal justice system for the UK. The experiences of Scotland and Northern Ireland also show broadly falling crime over time, although the recent specific trends differ.

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