Misinterpreting the facts

New statistics reveal what we routinely get wrong about crime

12th November 2018

The public far overestimates the amount of crime happening in the UK, according to stats from The Office of National Statistics (ONS).

The data revealed that 78% of Britons think that crime is on the rise while the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) — which measures recorded and non-recorded crimes — has shown that over the last 10 years, the trend indicated a steady decrease.

Crimes over this period dropped from just over 9.1 million incidents to just over 6.1, with a minor increase between June 2017 and 2018. Crimes reported by the police has begun to increase more sharply than crimes monitored by the CSEW, but this can be explained partly by more victims of crimes coming forward with complaints and higher standards in police reporting.

What’s the crime rate been like?

Interestingly, there is some variation in specific crimes. For example, computer misuse has fallen, while car theft has increased.

The main focus of this data is on overall crimes but earlier this year the ONS looked at how the public overestimates the likelihood of certain crimes.

Knife crime was shown to disproportionately affect London with 36% of offences taking place in the capital. While London had 170 knife crime offences per 100,000 people, West Yorkshire and the Midlands — which were also high rate areas — had averages of 112 and 106. Overall, urban areas had a much higher rate of knife crime than rural areas.

Our biases include our tendencies to focus more on negative stories over positive ones, to believe that things were always better in the past, to put too much emphasis on our own individual experience and simply not being very good with numbers

Younger people around the age of students are more likely to be burgled than their older counterparts, and burglaries in general are much more likely to happen while you are at home, the stats show.

You’re more likely to be burgled while you’re at home

The report also highlights that though the underlying point is important, the rate of murder of women is oversimplified. The claim that two women per week are killed is rounded up from the actual rate of 1.6 women, creating a 25% difference between the actual number and the number claimed.

The claim that women are more likely to be murdered by their partner remains indisputable, with 50% of all women who are murdered being killed by their partner or ex-partner.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) has been investigating why public perception can drastically differ from facts.

The Overtake spoke to the Gideon Skinner, research director for IPSO’s Social Research Institute about why people can be mistaken. He said: “There are many different reasons why we may be wrong about various facts of society — which can include external influences on us, such as what we hear in the media or online — but our own internal biases are just as important.

“These biases include our tendencies to focus more on negative stories over positive ones, to believe that things were always better in the past, to put too much emphasis on our own individual experience and simply not being very good with numbers.

“But what is crucial to understand is that we overestimate what we worry about as much as we worry about what we overestimate — in other words, inaccurate perceptions can be a very useful pointer to people’s real concerns. It also means that trying to correct inaccurate perceptions by only repeating the facts is unlikely to work — instead, we need to engage with the more emotional reasons that might be driving why people are worried about a topic.”

12th November 2018