Are crime rates at a record high?

28 October 2022
What was claimed

Crime rates in England and Wales are at a record high.

Our verdict

This claim is missing context. While the number of crimes recorded by the police has risen, this is not the best data to understand overall trends. Overall crime as measured by the Crime Survey for England and Wales is actually falling.

“Crime in England and Wales hits record high”

An article in the Daily Mirror claims that crime rates in England and Wales are at a record high. 

The article says: “Some 6.5 million offences have been logged in the past year, up 12% on the previous 12 months. The rise has been fuelled by an increase in sex crimes, up 20%, and violent attacks, up 13%, says the Office for National Statistics [ONS].”

Sky News had also covered the figures with a tweet headlined: "Crime in England and Wales hits all-time high". This tweet has since been deleted.

While it is true that the latest ONS figures show that the number of crimes recorded by police has risen significantly, the figures do not tell the whole story, as not all crimes are reported, so quoting these statistics in isolation can give a misleading impression of the levels of offending. 

While the number of police recorded crimes is currently at a record high, survey data suggests that overall crime fell by 8% between the year to March 2020 and the year to June 2022. 

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So is crime up or down?

In addition to police recorded crime statistics, the ONS publishes data from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) which estimates the level of offending by conducting interviews with a sample of 13,500 people and extrapolating the results across the entire population. 

While police recorded crime figures reflect the number of people who have made formal reports of offences, the researchers conducting the CSEW ask people if they have been a victim of a crime. The results are recorded regardless of whether that crime was reported to the police. 

According to research agency Kantar Public, which conducts the survey on behalf of the ONS, only 4 in 10 crimes are reported to the police. This explains why the number of crimes reported by the CSEW is higher than the number of offences recorded by police. 

The ONS says: “The CSEW is a better indicator of long-term trends for the crime types and population it covers, than police recorded crime because it is unaffected by changes in levels of reporting to the police or police recording practices.”

Because both the nature of crime and the collection of crime statistics was so disrupted by the pandemic, the ONS compares the latest data for the year to June 2022 against the year to March 2020, the last undisrupted by the pandemic.

Over this time period, the overall level of crime fell 8%. The ONS in particular noted a fall in the prevalence of theft during the pandemic has been sustained, and that an increase in fraud and computer misuse crimes during the pandemic has fallen back to pre-pandemic, and below pre-pandemic levels respectively.  

Police numbers

Police recorded crime figures are not so reliable in understanding the total level of crime, but are extremely reliable for high-harm crimes such as murder, which are almost always reported.

In many instances, the prevalence of such crimes have fallen. For example, the police recorded 679 homicide offences in the year ending June 2022, a 5% decrease compared with the year ending March 2020 though an increase of 13% compared to the year ending June 2021 when some lockdown restrictions were still in place.

Although the story in the Mirror noted that homicides and knife crime were below pre-pandemic levels, it did not mention that it was referring to police recorded crime figures or that the CSEW said overall crime was falling. 

The latest figures also show falls in burglary, robbery and firearms-enabled crime, among others, compared to just before the pandemic. 

With respect to domestic abuse and sexual offences, the ONS said that the number of police recorded incidents had increased compared to pre-pandemic levels, but there was no significant change in the prevalence as measured by the Crime Survey.

The ONS says: “The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) provides a more reliable measure of long-term trends in domestic abuse, sexual assault, stalking, and harassment than police recorded crime data.”

It warns that while police recorded crime may pick up on genuine changes in crime levels, some increases are also influenced by changes in the way crimes are recorded, the introduction of new offences and more victims reporting crime.

Image courtesy of Maggie Yap

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