Chris Grayling: "We don't make the statistics"

A weak defence against claims that the Tories manipulated violent crime figures.

The Tory shadow home secretary, Chris Grayling, went on the Today programme this morning to deny that the Conservatives have been using misleading statistics on violent crime.

The dispute is over a claim, made by Tory Central Office, that violent crime in "broken Britain" has risen by 70 per cent in the past decade. But the statistics used to reach this conclusion are not directly comparable, due to a big change in the way the numbers were recorded with the introduction of the National Crime Recording Standard (NCRS) in 2002. The BBC's Mark Easton, who uncovered the discrepancy, explains:

Before 2002 the decision as to whether an incident was a violent crime had been taken by police. After 2002, officers were obliged to record all incidents as violent crimes if the alleged victim said that is what it was. The aim was to stop police fiddling the figures and to get a better picture of violence. The obvious consequence was to send the raw numbers shooting up.

Grayling's defence this morning was as follows:

There are certainly changes in the recording methods, but the point is that they are the only comparators available. They are published by the Home Office . . . As an opposition party, we don't make the statistics. We can only use what the Home Office publishes.

This is a slightly disingenuous line of argument (these are the only two sets of numbers, so we should compare them, even though to do so is inaccurate . . . ?). As Easton points out, the Home Office document cited clearly highlights that "figures before and after [April 2002] are not directly comparable". Grayling's fellow Tory Iain Duncan Smith agrees with Easton that the NCRS "changed recording methods significantly and has rendered direct numerical comparisons with pre-2002/03 levels inaccurate".

The numbers, distributed to Tory MPs to use in local campaigns, imply a 236 per cent rise in violent crime in Milton Keynes, translating to roughly one attack every 90 minutes. This is inaccurate, as it includes very minor public order offences -- which is a shame, really, as an attack every hour and a half sounds rather reminiscent of the violent American TV show the Wire . . .

Grayling has got more. He dismissed the findings of the British Crime Survey, which found that people were experiencing roughly 50 per cent less violent crime on 1995 levels, arguing:

If you talk to anybody in the streets, and particularly in the poorest areas which are most affected by violent crime, you will find people will absolutely say that violent crime has risen sharply over the last ten years.

The reality is that that is the life they are experiencing. The problem we have got to deal with is not debates over statistics. It is actually sorting out these problems.

Excellent. Man implicated in statistics fiddling row says that statistics aren't really the point at all. Case closed.

 

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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