Home Office and PM criticised over ‘misleading’ crime-reduction claims

Watchdog the UK Statistics Authority says headline figures excluded growth areas of fraud and computer misuse
Priti Patel and Boris Johnson. Yui Mok/Pool via REUTERS

By Tevye Markson

04 Feb 2022

The UK Statistics Authority has criticised the Home Office, home secretary Priti Patel and prime minister Boris Johnson over “misleading” comments suggesting crime has gone down.

Responding to a letter from MP Alistair Carmichael, which raised concern about the comments, UKSA chair Sir David Norgrove said the figures had been presented “in a misleading way”.

In a press release on 27 January, the Home Office claimed: “ONS crime statistics out today show that crime continues to fall under this government.”

However, the Office for National Statistics publication states that there was a 14% increase in total crime from September 2019 to September 2021, driven by a 47% increase in fraud and computer misuse. The press release omitted fraud and computer use from its figures.

In his letter to UKSA, Carmichael said: “The prime minister and the government should not be disregarding a large, serious and growing area of crime – fraud and computer misuse – to claim a reduction in overall crime. Victims of fraud have been let down and ignored for too long, and writing them out of the story only makes that worse.”

Norgrove responded: “I agree that ONS measures of crime must be used accurately, and not misrepresented. In this case, the Home Office news release presented the latest figures in a misleading way.

“The Home Office news release in two places presented the statistics to give a positive picture of trends in crime in England and Wales, based on a fall in total crime excluding fraud and computer misuse.

“The exclusion was stated. However in the title and in two other places the release refers to a fall in crime, without making clear that this is true only if fraud and computer misuse are excluded.”

Four days later, on January 31, the prime minister also claimed the government "has been cutting crime by 14%" . Norgrove said he did not make clear that this excluded fraud and computer misuses.

“The ONS bulletin quite properly includes fraud and computer misuse in total crime,” Norgrove added.

Norgrove also agreed with Carmichael that the Home Office news release should have acknowledged that the pandemic and lockdown restrictions were the main drivers of recent crime trends, rather than solely attributing falling crime to the government’s Beating Crime Plan.

UKSA has written to the Home Office, the PM and the home secretary to “draw their attention to this exchange”.

The Home Office had not responded to Civil Service World's request for a response at the time of publication. 

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