“There has been a 90 per cent increase in police-recorded domestic abuse since 2015/16.”
That’s what Keir Starmer wrote in his thirty-five-page pamphlet for the Fabian Society titled “The Road Ahead”.
The Labour leader said it was an example of the “gap” between “the Tories’ rhetoric on keeping people safe and their record of delivery”.
But while he’s right that the claim is shocking, it’s not entirely reliable.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) warns that “Domestic abuse-related crimes and sexual offences recorded by the police do not provide a reliable measure of trends in these types of crime.”
That’s because “improvements in police recording practices and increased reporting by victims have contributed to increases in recent years”.
In other words, what looks like an increase in crime rates can often be a result of the police getting better at recording crime.
But there is an alternative: the Crime Survey of England and Wales. That’s where the ONS interviews a representative sample of thousands of people across the two nations about whether they have been the victim of crime over the last twelve months.
The Crime Survey gives us a better sense of how crime levels are changing over time because it’s not dependent on the police, whose own reporting practices are often updated. It also captures crimes that are never reported to the police – which is often an issue when we’re trying to understand the prevalence of sexual and domestic violence.
The ONS says “The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) provides the best picture of the overall trend in violent crime and is a more reliable measure of long-term trends in domestic abuse, sexual assault, stalking and harassment.”
So what does it tell us?
By that measure, there was no change in the overall rate of people being victimised by domestic abuse between March 2015 and March 2020 – in both years, the Crime Survey found that 6.1 per cent of adults aged 16 to 59 were victims of domestic abuse. (There aren’t any reliable, comparable figures yet for the period covering the pandemic, as this ONS article explains.)
Keir Starmer says there’s been a 90 per cent increase in police-recorded domestic abuse since 2015-16. But police records are known to be an unreliable metric when we’re looking at trends in crime over time – particularly sexual and domestic violence.
The Office for National Statistics says that its own Crime Survey is a much more useful measure. And according to that, the rate of domestic abuse remained stable between March 2015 and March 2020. (We’ve yet to get fully comparable figures for the period covering the pandemic.)