Now that the latest crime figures, published last week, show both ‘a small but genuine increase in some categories of violent crime’ and an undoubted growth in crime reporting, it is ripe to call time on the Tory claim that the police can be cut because they have less to do.
The Office for National Statistics reported that, after a decade of decline, there are real increases in levels of violent crime occurring in our communities and imperiling victims. This is nothing to do with changes in police recording practice that have also boosted this year’s figures for recorded crime. These are real crimes against real people, although it is necessary to repeat that the increase is ‘small’.
This year, knife crime went up by nine per cent to a total of 29,306 incidents. Worryingly, ONS say that some of this is likely to be attributable to more young people carrying weapons and an increase in gang violence. There were 5244 gun crime incidents, a seven per cent real increase, thankfully mainly in the use of BB guns or imitation weapons and there was a lamentable three per cent rise in homicides with 18 more people killed that the year before – not counting the 96 manslaughter cases from the events at Hillsborough, which were recorded for the first time in 2016 following the verdict in the second inquest.
The policing minister made no reference to these increases when commenting that crime is down by a quarter on 2010, no doubt seeking to imply a link with Tory government. However, overall crime including theft, assault and homicide, had been falling, in every European Union country at least since 2008 and the United Kingdom, having seen 18,000 police officers cut from forces nationwide in the past five years, seems to be the only one where violent offences are turning back up. The overall crime rate, adding together every kind of offence – however small or serious they are – is broadly level with last year’s – again undermining the Tory claim that crime is falling.
Real increases in crime ought to be met by real increases in police resource to cope with them and not with more cuts.
In addition, an increase in public confidence means that more people have reported crime this year. For instance, ONS/CSEW estimates that the proportion of adults who were victims of sexual offences in the previous year has not changed but there was a 14 per cent increase in sexual offences recorded by the police. This is, in every sense, a triumph for dedicated officers who work hard to make reporting crime a supportive experience but, pleased as they are with that success, it further increases their workload. If we add all these changes together, the number of crimes requiring attention from the police has gone up both because of additional reporting and through actual, if small, increases in violent crime.
When at the last public spending review the then chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, announced to the Commons that he was giving ‘real-terms protection’ to policing budgets in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks, he exclaimed: ‘Now is not the time for further police cuts, now is the time to back our police and give them the tools to do the job.’
In fact, Osborne cut £160M off police budgets. Sir Andrew Dilnot, chair of the UK Statistics Authority criticised the Tories for asserting ‘real-terms protection’ when what they were delivering were ‘real-terms cuts’ in 2015-16 and 2016-17. A House of Commons analysis estimated that the £160M cut was equal to the salaries of 3200 police officers over the two years.
Even as crime turns up and the Tories theories of policing explode, rumours are emerging of a further five per cent overall cut per annum over the next spending period. It was undoubtedly Labour’s attack on the scale of police budget cuts, in the aftermath of Paris that held the Tories last cuts down to the merely damaging level and away from the catastrophic.
Vera Baird is police and crime commissioner for Northumbria. She tweets at @VeraBaird
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