NEWS8 June 2011

ONS should take charge of British Crime Survey, says National Statistician

UK— National Statistician Jil Matheson wants to hand responsibility for the British Crime Survey (BCS) to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), thereby moving it out of the Home Office’s control, as part of an effort to build trust in crime statistics.

In a set of recommendations made to Home Secretary Theresa May, Matheson says the ONS “should assume responsibility for the independent reporting and publication of crime statistics to the media and the public, together with the compilation of crime statistics from both the British Crime Survey and police recorded crime”.

BCS contract management should also be passed to the ONS, Matheson says. The contract for the survey, which interviews 46,000 households annually about their experiences of crime, is currently held by TNS-BMRB.

The survey is designed to provide a measure of crime and incidents that are not reported or not recorded by police. However, Matheson’s review notes that “some crime is missed by both major sources”, to the detriment of public trust in the resulting statistics.

“It is important to recognise that neither series produces, nor can they ever produce, a count of ‘total’ crime,” Matheson says. “Some crime goes unreported or is under reported; victims can be unaware of some crimes such as fraud; and there are crimes where there may be no direct victims, for example drugs possession. Nor is the definition of crime as straightforward as it may seem. The boundaries between crime and simple misbehaviour often depend on context. Whether something is to be treated as crime often involves individual and subjective decisions.”

The review calls for improvements to the presentation of crime statistics in order to provide clarity about the coverage of the BCS and police records, maximise the benefits of complementary sources to fill gaps in the statistics where possible, and clarify the gaps it is not possible to fill.

Matheson says the Home Office should press ahead with plans for a survey on the extent of crimes against businesses, one area where data is currently lacking.

A Home Office spokesman said the recommendations were being considered.