“Under the Tories, our communities have become less safe. Violent crime has doubled.”
That was the claim from Jeremy Corbyn in his “alternative Queen’s Speech” yesterday.
He didn’t spell it out to the crowd, but Labour tell us Mr Corbyn was referring to changes over the last five years (rather than the full nine years of Conservative government).
Specifically, the claim is based on a rise in “violence against the person” offences. Police recorded about 630,000 such crimes in 2013-14, compared to nearly 1.7 million in 2018-19.
So far so simple. But we think this claim needs a bit more context.
What types of crime are we talking about?
“Violence against the person” is a category commonly used by statisticians. As you might expect, it includes crimes like homicide and causing death by dangerous driving.
But it also encompasses “violence without injury,” as well as “stalking and harassment” offences. (And we should point out that it excludes rape and sexual assault.)
So while statisticians, and Mr Corbyn, often use this category as a proxy for “violent crime”, we should remember that it doesn’t always mean someone has been physically harmed.
The single most common crime in this category was “assault without injury”, which accounted for nearly 590,000 offences, over a third of the total. “Assault with injury” was the second most prevalent followed by “malicious communications”.
What has happened to the most harmful violent crimes?
Using the five-year frame of reference Mr Corbyn has in mind, we can see homicide offences are up 32 per cent since 2013-14.
Death or serious injury caused by unlawful driving is up 62 per cent, while other types of “violence with injury” offences are up 70 per cent.
Labour also pointed us to an 8 per cent increase in offences involving a knife or sharp instrument in the last year.
These are undoubtedly significant increases, but are all rather less than the “doubling” that Mr Corbyn talks about (which would require a 100 per cent rise).
What about less harmful ‘violent’ crimes?
Most of the increase in “violence against the person” offences in the last five years has come from the “violence without injury” and “stalking and harassment” subcategories, which have increased by 173 per cent and 609 per cent respectively over the period.
The ONS points out that figures for stalking and harassment “need to be interpreted with caution” because “it is likely that [police] recording improvements are an important factors in this rise, particularly in relation to malicious communications offences.”
We can see this from the ONS tables, which show no entries under “malicious communications” until last year, when nearly 160,000 such crimes were put on the books for the first time. That figure topped 200,000 this year, meaning that this offence alone now makes up more than a tenth of the “violence against the person” total.
How has the picture changed since 2010?
Hearing Mr Corbyn’s words, you might think he’s referring to the entire nine years of Conservative rule.
But as FactCheck learned from Labour afterwards, he’s actually talking about the period since 2013-14.
This is significant because, according to the ONS, the effect of record-keeping changes by the police has been particularly pronounced “over the last five years.”
Looking back to 2010, when the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition took office, we see a less stark picture.
For example, while the number of homicides has increased by 32 per cent in the last five years, the increase since 2010 is somewhat smaller: 13 per cent. Similarly, “violence with injury” is up 70 per cent since 2013, but 37 per cent since 2010.
Again, these are noteworthy rises, but not the same as the 100 per cent increase Mr Corbyn suggests.
How do we measure crime?
Thus far, we’ve looked at police recorded offences. Regular FactCheck readers will know that this is one of two ways we can measure crime in England and Wales: the other being the ONS Crime Survey.
Neither measure is perfect.
As the ONS admits, police records are better-placed than the Survey to tell us about “lower-volume but higher-harm violence that the Survey either does not cover or does not capture well.” This category includes offences like homicide, knife and gun crime.
But the ONS also points out that police records “only cover crimes that come to the attention of the police,” so they can’t tell us about the crimes that go unreported.
And as we’ve seen in the case of malicious communications, police forces constantly change and improve their recording methods, which can give the false impression of a crime surge.
In contrast, the ONS Crime Survey involves interviews with victims of crime, so it can capture offences that never make it to the police. And it’s not affected by changes in reporting rules. For these reasons, the ONS and other statisticians consider it “the best measure of trends for overall violent crime.”
So what does the Crime Survey show? It reveals “long-term reductions in violent crime” since 1995 and “no change in the overall level of violence in recent years.”
This is “supported by other data”, including NHS figures which show hospital admissions for assault are down 33 per cent compared to ten years ago.
Jeremy Corbyn said that “under the Tories, our communities have become less safe. Violent crime has doubled.”
Labour say he’s talking about about a rise in police recorded “violence against the person” offences over the last five years, which have indeed doubled in that time.
We think the claim needs some additional context.
Most of the increase in “violence against the person” offences has come from “violence without injury” crimes and “stalking and harassment” — so most of these crimes don’t actually involve someone getting physically hurt.
As well as this, police have changed the way they record harassment offences, which the ONS says has caused a surge in recorded cases that has been particularly pronounced over the period Mr Corbyn is talking about.
Police records of high-harm violent crimes like knife crime have increased in the last five years, and the ONS accept that this is the best way to measure these types of crime. But they have grown by a significantly lesser extent than the “doubling” Mr Corbyn suggests. The rises are smaller still when we look across the entire nine years of Conservative rule.
We should also remember that while it is far from perfect, the ONS Crime Survey is generally considered a more reliable measure of trends in overall violent crime than police records. It’s not affected by changes in recording practices and can pick up crimes that would never be reported to the police.
The ONS Crime Survey shows a long-term decline in violent crime since the mid-1990s, followed by “little change” in recent years.