1. Introduction

This note provides an update on a comprehensive programme of work that aims to improve the design, coverage and presentation of crime statistics for England and Wales. The work has already expanded the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) to include crime types not previously incorporated and improve the population coverage.

New questions on fraud and cybercrime were introduced onto the CSEW in October 2015; first estimates were released as Experimental Statistics alongside the main statistical bulletin in July 2016, and have now been incorporated into the main estimates on crime and awarded National Statistics status.

A self-completion module of questions on adult respondents’ recollection of abuse experienced as a child was first included in the survey year ending March 2016; the main results of which were published in August 2016, with further analysis looking at the impact of child abuse on later life published in September 2017. The questions asked in this module have been refined in consultation with stakeholders and were implemented into the CSEW in April 2018 for the 2018 to 2019 survey year.

The upper age limit for the self-completion modules was increased from 59 to 74 years from the start of the survey year in April 2017; testing in relation to removing the upper age limit showed that willingness to answer the self-completion module declined as age increased, with the proportion of people completing the modules decreasing significantly for those aged 75 years and over.

Ongoing work includes developments to the Crime Survey to further expand its coverage and improve its estimates, work to better meet user needs for statistics on domestic abuse and child abuse, the development of a crime severity measure based on police recorded crime, and further improvements to the crime statistics outputs we produce.

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2. Expanding the coverage of the CSEW

We are undertaking a programme of work to develop new survey questions on elements of cybercrime and children’s safety online. This would include issues such as online bullying and meeting strangers online. We are currently working with experts in the field of conducting research with children to ensure that our approach is compliant with ethical standards and that appropriate safeguarding measures are in place. Once this is completed new questions will be added to the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) questionnaire used to gather views and experiences of children aged 10 to 15 years. We are hopeful the new survey questions will be included in the 2019 to 2020 survey.

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3. Improving the treatment of high-frequency repeat victimisation in CSEW estimates

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 of incidents of crime 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.

One of the strengths of the CSEW is its ability to provide trends for the crime types and population it covers. When estimating how many incidents of crime occur in the population, the survey has always included the first five incidents in a series of repeat victimisations. If the number of incidents had been 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.

We ran a consultation on proposed recommendations for changing this methodology, following a review of the current and alternative methods. Based on the results of the consultation and advice from the National Statistician’s Crime Statistics Advisory Committee in September 2016, it was agreed that:

  • the 98th percentile of victim incident counts for each crime type (calculated over a number of years) will be used as the highest value on the number of repeat incidents for any one respondent that is included within estimates

  • the time series will be revised back as far as possible

  • uncapped data will be made available as part of our methodology information; however, as these estimates of total incidents will be subject to considerable volatility from year to year, strong caveats will be given around their use

Making these methodological changes and revising the back series is a complex and substantial piece of work. In October 2016 we undertook exploratory work to help us understand the impact these changes have upon CSEW estimates and the time series for both adults aged 16 years and over and children aged 10 to 15 years. Different approaches were assessed to consider factors important to our users, such as the level of transparency, the level of volatility introduced into time series data, and the sensitivity of different approaches to measuring changes in repeat victimisation over time.

In completing this work we unearthed other issues that needed detailed consideration, in particular the identification of large variability within design weights, which we have now adjusted. A methodological note: Improving estimates of repeat victimisation derived from the Crime Survey for England and Wales outlines in more detail the work we have undertaken to refine the methodology as well as a number of important decisions about how this methodology will be implemented.

Since the last update an extensive part of the work has been completed. All financial year data from 1981 have been reprocessed with both uncapped and 98th percentile-based incident variables. Datasets have also been reweighted back to 1991 with consistent calibration across all years now in place for the first time (previously this was only available from 2001). We are reluctant to attempt to reweight or recalibrate the earliest datasets for 1981, 1983 and 1987 as the available data does not lend itself to this. However, it has been possible to add the uncapped and 98th percentile-based incidents for these years.

We are now at the stage of analysing the new data and creating a new time series back to 1991. We hope to publish these data in January 2019 at the same time as switching to the new methodology for all our outputs. However, given the volume and complexity of the work, there is still the small possibility that the entire series may not be available by January 2019 and in these circumstances, we may delay publication to the quarterly release in April 2019. It is worth noting that some historical tables will not be replaced immediately because of the resources required.

Prior to the release of the data currently expected to coincide with the January 2019 release, we will be engaging in a range of user activities; this will include presentations to stakeholders on the effect of these changes to current estimates and the time series of data published as part of the release. If you are interested in attending one of these events or would like to be kept informed, please contact the crime statistics inbox at Crimestatistics@ons.gov.uk expressing an interest.

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4. Improving domestic abuse statistics

Following feedback received from users on the production and publication of domestic abuse statistics, a steering group was set up in November 2015. The aim of the group was to review the statistics we produced and recommend changes that would enable the production and publication of a set of statistics that would better meet user requirements. This group contains representatives from across government, academia and the voluntary sector. The work of the group identified that collecting good-quality information on the frequency of abuse and on coercive and controlling behaviour were the main priorities. New questions for the domestic abuse, sexual assault and stalking self-completion modules of the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) were developed and tested to collect this information, and these were implemented into the survey from April 2017.

The new coercive and controlling behaviour questions are very different to the previous questions on non-physical abuse. These questions are currently being run on a split sample basis, to allow the impact on the long-standing time series for domestic abuse to be assessed. We are currently monitoring responses and conducting analysis and will publish these results in the future.

The new frequency of abuse question is being asked of the whole sample. Initial analysis suggests that the question is not working as well as expected, and further analysis is therefore being conducted to inform a decision on how to proceed with this question.

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 2017, which was published in November 2017. This is the second phase of a new release that 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 (PDF, 1.5MB) regarding the availability of data to enable more thorough analysis of how domestic abuse is dealt with in local areas. The first statistical bulletin and interactive data tool published in December 2016 included data held by Office for National Statistics (ONS), the Home Office and the Crown Prosecution Service. Feedback was gathered from important stakeholders on the first phase and the scope of the second phase was expanded to include new sources of data from Ministry of Justice, SafeLives and Women’s Aid.

We welcome feedback on this publication to help inform our planning of the third phase, which is planned to be released in November 2018. Please contact us via email at crimestatistics@ons.gov.uk.

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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 developed an additional measure, the Crime Severity Score (CSS), which weights different types of crime according to severity, with more serious crimes carrying a higher weight to better reflect the level of harm to society and demand of the police caused by crime.

First research outputs based upon the new CSS were published at the end of November 2016. In February 2017, a successful workshop was held with analysts from police forces across England and Wales on how this new measure could help to inform decisions in front-line policing and the prioritisation of police resources. Based on feedback from the workshop we made a number of improvements to our methodology. Experimental Statistics on the updated CSS were released for the first time alongside the statistical bulletin “Crime in England and Wales: year ending June 2017”. We intend to issue an updated CSS dataset alongside each quarterly crime statistics bulletin.

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6. Improving child abuse statistics

There is no single source reporting the scale and nature of child abuse, and it has been recognised that the official statistics in England and Wales are limited in respect to their coverage of child abuse. Therefore, in September 2015, the National Statistician’s Crime Statistics Advisory Committee established a Child Abuse Statistics Task and Finish Group to make recommendations for improvements to the official statistics.

We have already developed and implemented a module into the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) asking adults about their experiences of abuse as a child. In addition, following the recommendations made by the Task and Finish Group in 2016 and the progress we have made in this area since, we will be taking forward the following work in relation to improving statistics on child abuse:

  • producing a compendium of data sources to provide the best evidence of child abuse; this is planned for publication in 2019, with work on identifying the content beginning in 2018
  • investigating the use of multiple system estimation methods using administrative data sources to estimate the number of victims of child abuse
  • conducting a feasibility study to determine whether a prevalence study of child abuse could be effective
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7. Reviewing and refreshing crime statistics outputs

As part of the programme of work to improve crime statistics for England and Wales, we are 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 users’ 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 to make the main messages more accessible.

We welcome feedback on the bulletin via email at crimestatistics@ons.gov.uk.

We have replaced our “Focus on” compendium publications with separate articles on a range of topics and crime types. This has enabled us to provide a clearer and more concise picture of what is happening to specific crime types and areas of crime. We were also aware that many users of the compendiums had specific interests and therefore only looked at part of the publications rather than the whole.

Following user demand, we are working with the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office to produce an up-to-date overview of sexual offending. A report published in 2013 brought together, for the first time, a range of official statistics from across the crime and criminal justice system to provide an overview of sexual offending in England and Wales. We will be reviewing the content and format of the last publication to ensure we present the main messages in a concise and user-friendly way. Publication is planned for December 2018.

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Contact details for this Methodology

Telephone: +44 (0)20 7592 8695