by Matt Cavanagh
Earlier today the Home Office published the annual crime figures for England and Wales. The Spectator blog informs us that ministers are trying ‘to spin the figures as a vindication of their nascent reform programme’. This is foolish: their only big reform, elected Police and crime commissioners, will not come in until next spring at the earliest. The other policies ministers are fond of citing, like online crime maps, local beat meetings, and a reduction in top-down targets, are all broadly welcome but are incremental developments of initiatives begun under Labour.
Meanwhile, the only major changes in today’s BCS figures which the statisticians judge to be statistically significant are a 9% fall in vandalism – this is the extent of the good news – and a 14% rise in burglary, a 38% rise in assault with minor injury, and a worrying 35% rise in domestic violence. The raw BCS figures also show a 6% rise in all violence, and a 1% rise in overall crime, but neither is judged to be statistically significant.
It is too early to say whether these increases are blips; or a sign that the long downward trend in crime since 1995 has flattened out; or the start of a belated surge in crime associated with the state of the economy. The second is the preferred hypothesis of Home Office statisticians; the third has some grounding in past experience, in that burglary and domestic violence are particularly prone to rising in tough economic times.
At the start of the downturn in early 2009, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats reacted to a much smaller increase in burglary by, first, accusing Labour of complacency, and second, predicting a ‘recession crime wave’. They were wrong on both counts: far from being complacent, ministers had already been working with the police to try to pre-empt a rise in acquisitive crime; and the increase in burglary turned out to be a blip, in marked contrast to the pattern in the last recession in the early 1990s – as I set out on this site two weeks ago.
I hope these latest increases will also be a blip. But it would be more reassuring, as well as more consistent, if Tory and Lib Dem ministers showed the same concern as they evinced in 2009 in reaction to today’s figures, and rather less complacency. The real test of their reforms – and of the impact of their cuts – will come in the equivalent figures in 2012 and 2013.
Matt Cavanagh was a special adviser on crime and justice under the last Labour government.