Conservative claim that ‘overall crime’ has fallen 50% since 2010 excludes fraud

3 May 2023
What was claimed

Overall crime has fallen by around 50% since 2010.

Our verdict

This figure is based on specific data from the crime survey for England and Wales which doesn't count fraud or computer misuse offences, so doesn't represent all crime. In 2022 the crime survey estimated that fraud and computer misuse accounted for around 4.4 million out of 9 million total offences. We don’t have comparable data for 2010. The total number of offences including fraud and computer misuse has dropped by about 20% since 2017.

Crime is 50% lower than it was when we took office.

Since 2010, crime is down by 50% under the Conservative government.

Since 2010, since the Conservatives have been in power, since then, overall crime has fallen by about 50%.

Overall crime actually since 2010 has dropped by 48%, according to the crime survey.

Since the Conservatives came to power, crime is down 50%.

In recent weeks the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has repeatedly claimed, both in and out of Parliament, that “crime” or “overall crime” has fallen by around 50% since the Conservative Party took office in 2010. The policing minister Chris Philp also made a similar claim about “overall crime” on Sky News

These claims are based on crime survey data for England and Wales which does not include fraud and computer misuse offences. Because the way the data is collected changed in 2015, we don’t have comparable data going back to 2010 for all crime including fraud and computer misuse. But the crime survey data does show fraud and computer misuse accounted for around 4.4 million of 9 million total offences in 2022, while other sources suggest there’s been a rise in fraud in recent years. 

A Home Office spokesperson told Full Fact that, because fraud and computer misuse only began to be included in the crime survey in 2015, it is necessary to exclude those offences when making longer-term comparisons, and said: “We have made it clear the figure used to show the reduction in crime excludes fraud and computer misuse.”

However, while ministers have previously quoted the crime figures with appropriate context, as have Conservative party graphics shared recently on Twitter, this has not always been the case—as the examples listed above show. We’ve contacted Downing Street about Mr Sunak’s comments but did not receive a response. 

Selective or misleading use of official information without appropriate context and caveats can damage public trust in both official information and politicians. Ministers should use official information transparently and with all relevant context and caveats when a claim is first made, and quickly rectify oversights when they occur.

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How crime levels are measured

There are two main measures of crime in England and Wales, both of which are published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). All offences that are reported to the police are collated and published as police-recorded crime statistics. Police-recorded crime is currently at record high levels, but this appears to be partly due to more people coming forward to report crimes. 

The ONS notes: “Improvements to recording processes and practices by the police, expansions of the recorded crime collection to include new offences, variations in police activity, more victims reporting crime, and genuine increases in some types of crime, have each made substantial contributions to rises in recorded crime over recent years.”

The second measure is the Crime Survey of 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. 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. 

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”. 

What the CSEW data tells us

In the year to March 2011, the first year of figures published after the Conservative-led coalition government came to power in May 2010, the CSEW estimated a total of 9.71 million offences had taken place, excluding fraud and computer misuse. 

The most recent figures show the number of crimes excluding fraud and computer misuse has fallen sharply since then, with around 4.6 million such offences estimated to have taken place in the year to December 2022. This roughly equates to the fall of 50% which the Prime Minister and others have referred to. 

However, in addition to this figure, the CSEW estimated there were an additional 3.7 million offences of fraud and some 764,000 incidents of computer misuse in the year to December 2022, raising the total number of offences to around 9 million. So the figures for “overall crime” referred to by Mr Sunak and Mr Philp didn’t count millions of offences, and this was not made clear in what they said.(The latest set of crime survey figures were published on 27 April, which is after some of the claims we’ve examined above were made. Prior to that, the latest data for the year to September 2022 showed there were an estimated 3.7 million fraud offences, about 700,000 incidents of computer misuse and 4.75 million other crimes.)  

As the graph above shows, since both sets of figures began to be published in 2017, the total number of offences including fraud and computer misuse has fallen from 11.2 million to 8.9 million—a fall of about 20%.

But we don’t have comparable data going back to 2010 for the total number of offences including fraud and computer misuse.

Why does the CSEW separate figures for fraud?

The CSEW originally started as the British Crime Survey in 1982 (it initially included Scotland, but became the CSEW in 2012 after Scotland launched a separate system). When it was launched, the internet as we know it did not exist and fraud was not considered a significant threat, so it was not included in the survey questions. 

This changed in October 2015 when trial questions about fraud and computer misuse were included for the first time, though it was not until October 2017 that sufficient data became available for the results to be published. The ONS made it clear at the time that the new combined figure was not directly comparable with figures from previous years—we wrote about this at the time.  

Fraud has been rising in recent years

Although fraud was not being captured by the CSEW between 2010 and 2015, so we don’t have directly comparable data, other sources do suggest that fraud cases have been rising. 

Under Home Office rules introduced in January 2007, police forces are not obliged to record offences of fraud themselves but must report all such offences to a specialist unit of the City of London Police known as the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), which runs a service called Action Fraud. 

In addition, banks and other financial institutions report fraud and cyber crime to industry bodies such as Cifas and UK Finance. As all these reports are independent of changes in the way police record crime, they give a more consistent picture of the growth of fraud in recent years. 

The total number of offences reported to the NFIB and industry bodies rose from fewer than 200,000 in 2011 (according to a Police Foundation report) to 936,000 to the year ending March 2022

A report by the National Audit Office found that cases of criminals using stolen bank cards to  make fraudulent transactions “increased by 103% between 2011 and 2016, from 709,000 to approximately 1.4 million incidents”.

A spokesperson from Cifas told Full Fact: “Fraud was still a significant and rising problem before inclusion within the stats, and that trajectory has remained and (from our own statistics) accelerated in recent years.”

What does the UK Statistics Authority say?

This isn’t the first time that ministers’ use of crime statistics has been under scrutiny. In February 2022, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson was rebuked by the then-head of the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) for claiming that crime had fallen by 14% over a two-year period. 

Sir David Norgrove said: “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.”

He added that the “sharp rise in fraud and computer misuse” had more than offset falls in other kinds of crime over that period.

Mr Sunak’s recent comments have also been examined by the UKSA, after Labour MP Emily Thornberry complained about the PM’s claim that “since the Conservatives came into power, crime is down 50%”.In a response to Ms Thornberry, UKSA chair Sir Robert Chote wrote: “As you highlight in your letter, the UK Statistics Authority has in the past advised that fraud and computer misuse should be included in statements about overall crime wherever possible. However, the CSEW only started asking questions related to these offences in 2015. The Prime Minister therefore used the most appropriate data source for comparing trends in the total level of crime since 2010.

“Nevertheless, it would support public understanding if ministers using this comparison were explicit in stating the offences excluded, or instead used figures relating to specific types of offences.”

On 3 May 2023, Mr Sunak announced the launch of a new crackdown on fraud offences stating: “Fraud now accounts for over 40% of crime. It costs us nearly £7 billion a year and we know these proceeds are funding organised crime and terror. What’s more, new technologies are making these scams easier to do and harder to police.

“It’s time to take the fight to the scammers and fraudsters, and put an end to these crimes which can devastate lives and livelihoods within seconds.”

Image courtesy of Krzysztof Hepner

Update 4 May 2023

This article has been updated to clarify that the crime survey for England and Wales includes a set of figures that exclude fraud and computer misuse and a set that includes all crime types.

We deserve better than bad information.

After we published this fact check we wrote to the Prime Minister to ask him to ensure he is clear about what offences are excluded if he refers to this figure in future. 

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