Change in crime patterns
Yesterday (22 July 2021), the Office for National Statistics published the crime figures for the year ending March 2021. Patterns of crime in this year have been significantly affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and government instructions to limit social contact. While there were decreases across a range of individual crime types, particularly theft offences, these were offset by rises in fraud and computer misuse offences, resulting in no change in overall levels of crime.
The Telephone Crime Survey for England and Wales (the regular Crime Survey has been conducted by telephone this year in order to comply with lockdown requirements) indicated a 36% increase in fraud and computer misuse offences compared with the year ending March 20191 Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW).
TCSEW total crime excluding fraud and computer misuse decreased by 19% compared with the year ending March 2019. This was largely driven by substantial decreases in theft offences (20%). Over the equivalent time-period, total police recorded crime excluding fraud and computer misuse decreased by 13%.
The largest decreases in recorded crime were seen during the three-month period that coincided with the first national lockdown, with a 19% decrease in April to June 2020 compared with April to June 2019.
Although the TCSEW indicated no change in the total number of violence incidents, the total number of victims of violent crime decreased by 28% compared with the year ending March 20192. This was largely driven by falls in violence where the offender was a stranger.
Police recorded crime gives more insight into the lower-volume but higher-harm violence that the survey either does not cover or does not capture well. These data show that compared with the year ending March 2020:
- the number of homicides decreased by 16% to 600 offences
- there was a 14% fall in the number of police recorded offences involving firearms
- there was a 15% fall in offences involving knives or sharp instruments (knife-enabled crime), driven by substantial decreases in periods coinciding with national lockdowns
How likely are we to be victims of crime?
It remains clear that most of us won’t be victims of crime in any one year. The latest estimates show that 8 in 10 adults did not experience any of the crimes asked about in the TSCEW in the year ending March 2021. The likelihood of being a victim of crime varies substantially by crime type, while there is only a 0.23% chance of being the victim of robbery, the likelihood of being a victim of crime is much higher – 7.97%
The impact of the pandemic is very clear when we look at the crime figures broken down by crime type. You can see the details in the table below. While robberies fell by 34% and burglaries by 30%, fraud leapt by 24% and computer misuse offences by 85%.
The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) provides the best picture of the overall trend in violent crime and is a more reliable measure of long-term trends in domestic abuse, sexual assault, stalking and harassment. Estimates from the Telephone-operated Crime Survey for England and Wales (TCSEW) showed that there were 1.6 million violent offences in the year ending March 2021, no significant change in total violence compared with the year ending March 2019.
Although the TCSEW indicated no change in the total number of violence incidents, the total number of victims of violent crime decreased by 28% compared with the year ending March 2019. This was largely driven by falls in the prevalence of violence where the offender was a stranger. This likely reflects a decrease in violence taking place in public spaces during national lockdown restrictions. These estimates of violence are not indicative of levels of domestic abuse during the pandemic where data from victim services suggests that experiences of domestic abuse may have intensified during periods of national lockdown and that victims faced difficulties in safely seeking support under these conditions.
Police recorded crime also showed falls in violence with injury (14% decrease to 465,678 offences) and violence without injury offences (7% decrease to 679,489) in the year ending March 2021 compared with the previous year.
Estimates from the Telephone-operated Crime Survey for England and Wales (TCSEW) showed that there were 1.7 million computer misuse offences in the year ending March 2021. This was an 85% increase compared with the year ending March 2019, largely driven by a 162% increase in “Unauthorised access to personal information (including hacking)” offences. This included victims’ details being compromised via large-scale data breaches, and victims’ email or social media accounts being compromised, and sometimes used to request money from their contacts.
The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) also reported a 55% increase in “Hacking – personal” offences referred by Action Fraud (from 3,481 to 5,390 offences).
Thanks to Nahel Abdul Hadi for kind permission to use the header image in this post which was previously published on Unsplash.