1. Introduction

This note provides an update on a comprehensive 4-year programme of work initiated in 2016, which aims to improve the design, coverage and presentation of crime statistics for England and Wales. The work has already expanded the coverage of the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) to include crime types not previously incorporated including:

Ongoing work discussed in this note includes developments to the Crime Survey to further expand its coverage and improve its estimates, a review of the treatment of high frequency repeat victimisation within CSEW estimates, the development of a crime severity measure based on police recorded crime and further improvements to crime statistics outputs produced by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

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2. Expanding the coverage of the CSEW and improving its estimates

With fraud and computer misuse now covered by the adult CSEW questionnaire (see Introduction), we have recently begun a programme of work to include questions on elements of cybercrime (rather than fraud specifically) into the child survey of 10 to 15 year olds. This would include crimes such as “sexting”, online bullying and online grooming. If successful, we aim to introduce new questions into the CSEW child questionnaire from October 2017.

We are also considering further improvements to the range of crimes included in its main estimates. Presently the Crime Survey generates estimates from information gathered from both face-to-face and self-completion sections of the survey and in certain instances (such as sexual assaults and domestic violence) estimates can be derived from either section. Currently the publication of such estimates is handled inconsistently. Domestic violence estimates from both the face-to-face and self-completion sections of the survey are published separately, whilst for sexual offences only estimates derived from the self-completion section of the survey are published. We will be undertaking further analysis and engaging with users to take into consideration their views on this issue and whether or not we should move to a different approach.

As well as improving the Crime Survey’s coverage of crime types, we are also investigating ways of improving the population coverage. The self-completion module on the adult survey is traditionally only asked to respondents aged 16 to 59 and we are considering improving the coverage by removing this upper age limit. From October 2016, the upper age limit on the self-completion module was removed from a quarter of the survey sample and we are currently assessing uptake from older participants alongside consideration of ease of use and other factors. The results of this split sample experiment will be published in 2017. A decision on whether the upper age limit for the entire sample should be increased (or removed entirely) will be made in time for implementation from the start of the new survey year in April 2017.

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3. Improving domestic abuse statistics

Following feedback received from users on the domestic abuse statistics produced and published by ONS, a steering group was set up in November 2015 to review the current statistics and recommend changes to address identified issues that would result in a set of statistics that better meet user requirements. This group contains representatives from across government, academia, and the voluntary sector. The work of the group has identified that collecting good quality information on the frequency of abuse and on coercive and controlling behaviour are the main priorities and the group has developed new questions for the intimate personal violence self-completion module of the CSEW to collect this information. These new questions are currently being tested and if testing is successful, they will be implemented into the survey from April 2017.

We have also been working with a range of other government departments and agencies on a new domestic abuse publication ‘Domestic abuse in England and Wales: year ending March 2016’. This new release was developed in response to a recommendation made by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in their report ‘Increasingly everyone’s business: A progress report on the police response to domestic abuse’ regarding the availability of data to enable more thorough analysis of how domestic abuse is dealt with in local areas. The statistical bulletin and interactive data tool published in December 2016 was the first phase of this work. It is planned that this will become an annual publication, with additional data sources added in future editions. We welcome any feedback on this release, or any suggestions relating to the second phase of this work (please contact the Crime Statistics and Analysis team – crimestatistics@ons.gsi.gov.uk).

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4. Treatment of high frequency repeat victimisation in estimates derived from the CSEW

The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) was designed as a victimisation survey to measure the number of victims of crime in the population. It has also been used to measure the number of times a person is a victim of crime and hence the number of crimes experienced by adults living in households in England and Wales. Producing such an estimate is unproblematic for most crime types as the number of repeat victimisations suffered by an individual is usually small and easily recalled. For example, it is unlikely victims will not be able to remember the number of times their car was stolen or their house broken into in the previous 12 months. However, for certain crime types such as violence in a domestic setting, the victim may suffer repeat victimisation with a frequency that is difficult to quantify over a 12-month period. High order repeat victimisation presents considerable challenges for the CSEW as only a relatively small number of victims yield a high number of victimisations.

If left unaddressed, survey estimates of incidents of crime would be subject to large sample variability from year to year (although estimates of the number of victims of crime are not affected). This would result in the publication of incident rates that would fluctuate widely between survey years, making it difficult to discern trends. Since one of the strengths of the survey has been its ability to provide trends for the crime types and population it covers, in cases of repeat victimisation the CSEW (and its predecessor the British Crime Survey) has always only included the first 5 incidents of a series in its estimate of the total number of incidents of crime in the population.

Following criticism of this methodology for failing to adequately handle the very real occurrence of repeat victimisation, we committed to reviewing this going forward and commissioned a review of the current and alternative methods. The review proposed a set of recommendations for changing the methodology and a public consultation on these recommendations was run between 6 July and 13 September 2016.

Based on the feedback received from users, a proposal for how to address high frequency repeat victimisation going forward was presented to the National Statistician’s Crime Statistics Advisory Committee in late September 2016. The agreed proposal, along with a summary of the feedback received and our plans for the next steps, was published as a response to the consultation in early November 2016.

The current methodology of capping repeat incidents at 5 will be changed to a lighter cap of the 98th percentile of victim incident counts for each crime type. We are currently planning the implementation of this change, including details of the methodology and a timetable for implementation and will provide more information in April 2017.

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5. Developing a new "Crime Severity" measure based on police recorded crime

Official statistics on crime recorded by the police in England and Wales are presented as simple counts of the number of offences recorded or as a rate of offences recorded per head of population. On this basis each crime carries an identical weight regardless of seriousness. In collaboration with partners and with the support of the National Statistician’s Crime Statistics Advisory Committee we have been developing an additional measure, the “Crime Severity Score”, which weights different types of crime according to severity, with more serious crimes carrying a higher weight in order to better reflect the level of harm to society and demand of the police caused by crime.

First research outputs based upon the new Crime Severity Score were published at the end of November 2016. We are keen to receive feedback on this new statistic and invite you to provide comments (a template is available to facilitate this).

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6. Reviewing and refreshing crime statistics outputs

As part of the programme of work to improve crime statistics for England and Wales we will be reviewing our full range of statistical outputs. This will include an extensive review of the data tables published with each release, focusing on improving the accessibility of the data. As part of this review we will be seeking your views on whether there is a continuing need for all of the data we publish and whether there are new needs for data we are not currently producing. We will also be looking at opportunities to exploit new data sources to meet user needs for more detailed information on the nature of crime.

This is ongoing work and as a first step in response to feedback from users, we have reduced the length of our quarterly statistical bulletins on crime and changed the format in order to make the main messages more accessible. As a result of these changes, the bulletins will no longer include commentary on long-terms trends for many crime types or wider contextual information. Such commentary will be restricted to those crime types where we have seen notable rises or reductions. In due course it is our intention to publish this information in a series of articles, each covering a specific crime type. The first of these articles, giving an overview of statistics on fraud, was published in July 2016 and a second article providing an overview of statistics on domestic abuse will be published in April 2017 (with articles on other crime types to follow later in the year). We would welcome feedback on the new format quarterly bulletin and on the articles (as they are released) at crimestatistics@ons.gsi.gov.uk.

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