Published 23 January 2020
If Dominic Cummings is to be believed, the present government is not going to run on the normal rules of conventional politics: “We do not care about trying to ‘control the narrative’ and all that New Labour junk and this government will not be run by ‘comms grid’."
It sounds great on paper, but the test of such a principle is how it stands up to the brute force of political reality… such as the release of crime statistics which show significant rises in recorded crime (up 48 per cent since 2014).
We probably shouldn’t be surprised, then, that the night before the release of those statistics, the Home Office rushed out a press release celebrating the ‘biggest funding boost in a decade’ for policing. Anyone would think that the government was attempting to get in front of/ manage a bad news story with a coordinated announcement.
The government is right to be worried. Knife crime is now at the highest level since records began. Over the last four years, crime has risen up the list of public concerns - from being rated the 12th most important issue facing the country in 2016 to the fifth today.
It is important to put these figures in context. Some of these rises are down to better recording and reporting of crimes. Moreover, while recorded crime has increased, the Crime Survey for England and Wales continues to show overall crime is stable. As a society we are probably still safer than we were twenty years ago.
Nonetheless, what is clear from today’s stats is the composition of crime is changing before our eyes. In terms of volume, the single biggest driver of increases in recorded crime is the category ‘violence against the person’, which has risen by 145 per cent since 2014.
There are also a subset of low-volume, high-harm offences, such as knife crime and robbery, where we know recorded figures tend to be more accurate than the Crime Survey. These crimes have been rising steadily since 2014, with knife crime and robbery up in the last year by 7 per cent and 12 per cent respectively.
Robbery, in particular, is a crossover crime, impacting a much broader range of young people (often still in school) who are increasingly likely to carry smart phones, AirPod headphones and/ or contactless cards. Anecdotally, the police have expressed concern that the level of violence being used in robberies seems to be growing. This appears to be borne out by the data: the proportion of robbery that is knife-enabled has increased from 20 per cent in 2014 to 23 per cent in 2019. No wonder it is one of the crimes that parents most worry about.
These problems aren’t restricted to the big cities either. Our analysis of today’s statistics reveals that the rate of recorded crime, including violence against the person, is highest in West Yorkshire (see below) and the highest rate of increase has occurred in Lincolnshire over the last year.
Distributional analysis - between the 43 forces - of where demand pressures are greatest will only increase the calls for a review of the police funding formulae, which remains overwhelmingly focused on population size.
Most worrying of all for the government, the proportion of crimes which led to a suspect being cautioned or charged has reached a new low of 7.3 per cent - equivalent to just one in fourteen cases. The proportion of crimes leading to a prosecution have effectively halved since 2015, the first year in which the data was collected in this way, when they were 15.5 per cent. In other words, outcomes per officer are getting worse.
The Prime Minister and his team will therefore be aware that promising more police will only work as a strategy to reassure the public for so long, if the public have no faith that anything is going to happen when crimes are reported. Which is why the Policing Minister is correct to argue that with increased spending, comes increased expectation: the Home Office will want to see the police start to demonstrate an improvement in productivity and effectiveness.
So, despite enjoying a ‘honeymoon period’, the government is right not to be complacent about crime and right to be prioritising it. The uplift in police resources is a good start - but Ministers will need to work hard to exact greater bang for their buck. Moreover, spending on police will need to be matched by investment in preventative services and the rest of the justice system. The clock is ticking.
NB: Recorded crime data exclude Greater Manchester Police because of crime recording problems.