Grayling still misleading the public on violent crime

Shadow home secretary falsely claims that violent crime is up and then resorts to anecdotes.

Chris Grayling was let out of the dog house this morning for a rare media appearance on the Today programme. Challenged on crime statistics, he at least conceded that "overall crime has fallen".

But just as it seemed that we might be making progress, the shadow home secretary repeated his false claim that violent crime has risen dramatically under Labour. In fact, the British Crime Survey (BCS), still regarded by statisticians as the most reliable long-term measure of crime, shows that violent crime has fallen by 41 per cent since 1997.

Conveniently, Grayling refuses to accept the BCS and prefers to use police-recorded statistics, based on individual reports by victims of crime. But as the Violence in England and Wales 2009: an Accident and Emergency Perspective report shows, even on this measure, violent crime is falling.

As the graph below shows, the BCS, police recorded crime and accident and emergency figures all point to one conclusion: violent crime is falling.

Trends-in-violence-in-England-and-Wales

But the empirically challenged Grayling then decided that it wasn't all about statistics after all. In a remarkable claim for a prospective home secretary, he said:

I don't think it's just about figures, I think it's about what people see in their communities. I mean, i do think Britain is a more violent place than it was a decade ago, it's the country where only a few weeks ago an elderly couple died after someone set light to their mobility scooter.

The assertion was clear. Grayling is able to set aside statistical evidence on the basis that his own personal experience, plus one or two anecdotes he's picked up from the tabloids, proves that Britain is a more violent place.

Never mind that the most reliable figures show nothing of the sort, Grayling just knows that Britain is more violent now than it was in 2000.

Should he ever make it to the Home Office (and the odds are against it), one expects that Grayling, keen to prove that a Tory government has cut crime, won't adopt such a cavalier attitude to the facts.

UPDATE: Over at the Spectator's Coffee House blog, David Blackburn takes me to task for my claim that violent crime has fallen.

First, he argues that changes in recording practice mean that figures from the most recent British Crime Survey are incomparable with those from 1997. But, as I point out in the comment thread, the change only applied to police recorded statistics (favoured by Grayling), not to the British Crime Survey, which has measured crime in the same way since 1981.

Second, he points to a recent document from the House of Commons library which stripped out 24 per cent of the increase in violent crime to account for the new recording methods, allowing the Tories to claim that violent crime has risen by 44 per cent since 1998.

But what the party failed to mention is that the 24 per cent figure accounts for only one year of the changes, even though the violent crime figures were artificially inflated for at least two to three years.

It's still Grayling who has the explaining to do here.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.