There is much debate in the media today about crime and crime statistics. How reliable are they? It was reported in April that crime in England and Wales fell by 15 per cent in 2013, to the lowest level since 1981. And a similar long-term decline in crime was reported in Scotland – a 13 per cent fall, to the lowest level since 1975.
But the extent to which we can rely on these statistics is clouded by controversy. In January the UK Statistics Authority withdrew its approval for UK crime statistics and latest crime figures have received a mixed reaction, especially as allegations emerge that police forces have a culture of fiddling statistics which results in an under-recording of certain serious offences, such as rape and sex crimes against children.
The status of crime statistics has long been an issue of contention as police throughout the land target specific crimes, and reports of mis-recording within forces come to light. The London School of Economics has produced a useful analysis of the arguments and sources as well as putting the issue in a European context.
Last month Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) revealed that over one fifth of all crime is not recorded. (An unrecorded crime is classed as one that is reported to the police, but not recorded as an offence). Home Secretary Theresa May called the findings 'unacceptable'.
There is one area of crime which clearly illustrates some of these problems – hate crime, and racial hate crime in particular.
A Home Office report, published at the end of 2013, revealed that race remains the most common motivating factor in hate crimes, followed by religion. It estimated 278,000 hate crimes a year among the five monitored strands: race, religion, gender, disability, gender identity and sexual orientation. The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), from which these statistics are derived, is contrasted with police figures which recorded 42,236 hate crime offences in 2012/13, just 15 per cent of the total reported in the CSEW. Eighty-five per cent of the hate crimes recorded by police were racially motivated.
The level of reporting has declined from 51 per cent since the 2007/8 and 2008/9 combined surveys. The report found that the most common reason victims give for not reporting hate crime to the police was because they felt the police could not or would not do much about it.
Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris, the national policing lead for hate crime, admitted “there is a significant difference between police-recorded hate crime and the Crime Survey because hate crime is still massively underreported. Under-reporting is still one of biggest challenges that the police and the criminal justice system face in reducing the harm caused by these type of crimes. We are committed to increasing the reporting and recording of hate crime.”
Evidence from a recent Freedom of Information (FOI) request shows hate crimes against Muslims is on the increase. Reliable figures are unavailable because the request was responded to by only 24 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales. And only two of these forces, the Metropolitan Police Service in London and Greater Manchester Police, record Islamophobia as a category of hate crime. That for me is a remarkable omission!
Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, confirmed that anti-Muslim hate crimes in London had risen eightfold following the murder in Woolwich of soldier Lee Rigby in 2013. MPs' figures on Islamophobic crimes in the immediate months after Lee Rigby's death revealed a sharp increase compared to the summer of 2012. MPs recorded 500 Islamophobia hate crimes in London alone.
An analysis of the Home Office report on hate crime by the Independent concluded "the statisticians who compiled the report said that it was possible that some crimes – which the victim believed to be racially motivated – were not being assessed as such by the police”. The Independent found that a staggering 80 per cent of allegations of racially or religiously motivated crime are not investigated, and less than a third of these result in court proceedings, let alone convictions.
It raises questions about whether police forces across the UK are no longer prioritising hate crime as they target other areas of recorded crime to ensure that crime figures continue to fall. It also raises concerns about the rhetoric of the forthcoming European elections, and UKIP's campaign in particular, which adopts an anti-migration stance, while its political representatives continue to become the focus of media exposure as 'racists'. Worryingly for me, it seems that despite this intolerant bile UKIP is growing more popular and is tipped to win the forthcoming European elections. The heat seems on minority ethnic groups in Britain amid a climate in which racist hate crimes are going unreported, and it is 'respectable' to target minorities.
It is time for Government and the police to prioritise the issue of race (and all hate) crime. This is especially important at a time when our politicians seem intent on unfairly maligning our minority ethnic groups, as they try to turn the electorate, at least in England, into a prejudiced intolerant group of Little Englanders.
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