Monday, January 29, 2007

Fun With Numbers

So, let me just get this straight.

The number of crimes, according to Home Office figures, is down. Down 35% since 1997, in fact.

The number of violent crimes is also down.

The likelihood of being a victim of a crime is, on the other hand, up.

Okay. Let's not look at this in a tabloid slavering screeching-headlines knee-jerk fire-the-person-responsible sort of way, and instead do the maths. If crime is down and violent crime is down then, assuming that the descent of these figures is not merely a result of fiddling the numbers (nobody can rule this out, but honestly, nobody at the Home Office is clever enough to skew the statistics enough to make a real difference), mathematics would suggest that there are two distinct brands of crime: crime that has victims and crime that does not.

Now, people (law enforcement types, mostly) often say that there is no such thing as a victimless crime. Let's assume that we're talking about the kind of crimes where a victim is not an individual but a corporation or the government: namely, fraud - benefit fraud, insurance fraud and so on. If the number of reported crimes has fallen but the proportion of those crimes which are 'victimless' has itself fallen to a large enough extent then the numbers make sense: there are fewer victimless crimes out of the total, therefore more likelihood of being a victim of crime.

So, what constitutes a 'victimful' crime? Well, that would be crimes against the person. Which are, let's face it, nearly all violent crimes. But violent crime is down, apparently, so in order for these figures to make sense there must have been a sharp increase in the number of non-violent crimes against the person.

The only one I can think of (and, to be fair, I've drunk most of a bottle of Shiraz I won in a raffle so my judgement may be impaired) is burglary. But the figures appear to fudge this somewhat: it's been widely trumpeted that burglaries are down... but less so that 'theft from the person' is up, way up according to page four of the report linked above. But how is 'theft from the person' nonviolent? Unless we've suddenly become a nation of expert pickpockets this seems unlikely - more likely is that a certain level of violence is not deemed sufficiently extreme to be worth recognition: someone smacks you in the face and grabs your phone before running off then hey, that's not a mugging, that's just a theft against your person. Hardly worth calling 'violence', not unless there's blood and bruises.

So in order for the figures - the figures the government has released, remember - to make any sense the burglary rate must have shot up and the fraud rate must have plummeted. Which itself implies that the Labour government have put a great deal of effort into tackling crime against them but much less into preventing crime against British citizens.

To summarise, then: either the Labour government have massaged the figures or the Labour government has put itself above the people it serves. I am not specifically anti-Labour - I grew up during the Thatcher years so I have no axe to grind with the Diet versions - but this demands explanation. I'm not saying that my interpretation is correct, only that it seems to be getting harder and harder to ascertain the truth from the irrefutable, namely cold hard numbers. It's a view in which I am seemingly not alone.

I don't know if any schoolchildren read this (I'm guessing not) but seriously, THIS is why you need to learn maths. We live in a world where most people - most voters - are too ignorant or too stupid to parse statistics to even the simplest degree, and as long as people cripple themselves by refusing to learn basic mathematical skills the government - and indeed anyone who bothered to listen during their GCSEs - will always be able to fuck them over.

Oh well. At least Blair seemed to get the gay adoption thing right: probably realised that allowing people to opt out of obeying the law if their religious beliefs clash with it would effectively legalise suicide bombings. Not even the British would vote for that.

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