Some crimes are falling but crime is changing. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

To hide behind falling crime rates is to fail victims of crime

New forms of crime are on the up.

The assertion from government that “crime is down”, which means, it says, that its reforms are working, offers a misleading view of crime in England and Wales today. Crime fell by 43 per cent under Labour. That was because we built neighbourhood policing, putting 17,000 extra police officers and 16,000 PCSOs on the beat. Additionally, trends worldwide have shown decreasing levels of some crimes due to reasons which include changing demography and volume crime decreasing as cars were made more difficult to steal and houses to burgle.

Yet the government is using this to support its claims that its reforms to policing are working when the opposite is the case.

It is essential that crime statistics are accurate so the public is aware of the true picture and Chief Constables can plan their resources to meet the challenges of crime.  Additionally, statistics give us insight into crime trends so we can see patterns, gauge performance and, crucially, hold police forces to account.

However, valid statistical evidence in policing has been somewhat difficult to come by in recent years. An inquiry launched by the House of Commons Public Administration Committee found that there was under-recording of crime and the official statistics could not be trusted. Indeed the UK Statistics Authority stripped Police Recorded Crime (PRC) data of the “National Statistics” gold standard when evidence came to light that suggested the data did not represent a full and accurate picture of crime in England and Wales.

As a result, what we are now seeing is a mixed picture between PRC and the Office of National Statistics’ Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW), a survey of 50,000 households. PRC is showing an increase in crime in many police forces, including sexual offences up by 22 per cent, violent crime up by 16 per cent and public order offences up by 10 per cent. While on the other hand, the CSEW is showing a steady decline in crime. Yet the CSEW has been criticised for not recording some offences, such as shoplifting, and does not question some of the most vulnerable people who may be repeatedly victimised, such as those who are homeless. To say that the Home Office is basing its claim that crime is falling on rocky ground would be an understatement.

In addition, while it is true that those traditional forms of crime like vandalism, vehicle-related theft and burglary have been seeing a steady decline since their peak just under 20 years ago, crime is changing.

There may be fewer bank robbers and car thieves but there is a new wave of criminality sweeping forward from those who hide behind desktops carrying out sophisticated forms of cyber crime and online fraud.

As internet access in the UK increases, and its use becomes ever easier, so too do criminal activities online. In fact, the National Crime Agency last year stated, "If there is a single cross-cutting issue that has changed the landscape for serious and organised crime and our response against it, it is the growth in scale and speed of internet communication technologies." Furthermore, research conducted by a US-based company, FireEye, noted that cyber attacks against Britain in the first half of last year were far more numerous than any other state in Europe or the Middle East.

According to an ONS survey released in July 2014, the number of fraud offences could total between 3.6m and 3.8m incidents of crime per year. It is estimated that if bank and credit card fraud were included in the CSEW, the total number of criminal offences would jump by a quarter.

Apart from the world of online and cyber criminality, other forms of criminality are imposing ever greater demands on the police service, from the tackling of the obscenity of child sexual exploitation and abuse to the threat of terrorism. The exploitation and abuse of children is, as we now know, on a massively greater scale than was reflected in crime recording.

In summary, some crimes are falling but crime is changing and new forms of criminality are soaring just when the police officer numbers have suffered the biggest cuts in Europe. The time has come for a mature conversation about the changing nature of crime and how we may tackle it. To hide behind crime rates that are based on dodgy statistics, claiming that you can cut tens of thousands of police officers and cut crime, is to fail victims of crime.

Jack Dromey is shadow policing minister and MP for Birmingham, Erdington

Jack Dromey is shadow policing minister.

Getty
Show Hide image

"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

0800 7318496