There is a very real likelihood that economic conditions are combining with devastating cuts to services and legal aid to create heightened risk for victims of domestic violence. It’s something that’s been worrying me and I suspect everyone else with an interest in the topic for several years now. So I’ve had my eyes open for evidence as to the impacts. The official figures for the year 2011/12 are due in January.
But a couple of weeks ago a few agency-based news sites appeared to be presenting some hard evidence.
The recession is making domestic violence worse, statistics show.
The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) claimed to have found a statistical link between the economic downturn and an increase in domestic violence.
Domestic violence has increased by 17% over the period of the recession.
In 2011, 2,174 assaults were reported each day in England and Wales – or three every two minutes.
The same statistics appeared this morning in Suzanne Moore’s column in the Guardian.
I wasn’t aware of any new releases from the ONS that could have informed these claims, so I did a bit of digging.
A helpful person at NCDV explained that the statistics had not come from them. They had released figures that their own caseload had increased by 19.6% during 2011, which is in its own right a worrying glimpse of the demands now placed on remaining services, but it offers no clue to the overall extent of domestic violence. (Most obviously, when some services are cut back or closed down, those that remain are likely to see a vastly increased demand. Alternatively, more effective marketing or raised media profile can lead to an increase in calls and referrals for any one charity or service.)
So where does the claim of a 17% rise, equivalent to 2174 cases a day, come from? I searched on the figures and they appear to be drawn from a Daily Mirror report in July 2011, which quoted the precise same statistics in exactly the same terms. That piece was reporting a parliamentary answer given in Hansard the week before. In response to a question from Gloria de Piero MP, minister Lynne Featherstone released the most recent police reported crime figures. They cover four years, 06/07 – 09/10.
06/07 07/08 08/09 09/10
671,374 674,756 766,047 793,526
Although there was a slight rise between the first and second column, and between the third and fourth, the great proportion of the 17% jump happened in one year, between 07/08 and 08/09.
There are several things to note here. The first is that the figures stop in June 2010. So any suggestion that this is new research based on new data is clearly bogus. The second point is that while the global recession began in September 2008, most of the impacts upon the general public did not begin to be felt for months or even years after that. So while it is possible that the rise in domestic violence reports can be attributed to economic conditions, it would seem improbable.
The austerity programme of the current government, of course, did not begin until May 2010, so it has to be entirely irrelevant to these data.
Another point that will be of interest to many of those commenting on Suzanne Moore’s strictly female-focussed piece is that these numbers are total reports, not just women. (Typically police reports are about 10% male victims reporting female abusers.)
It is important to note that according to BCS, which is considered to be a much more reliable (though still far from perfect) guide to the actual incidence of violent crime, there was no rise in self-reported domestic violence in the year to 08/09. The estimate of physical partner abuse victims (non-sexual) fell from 1,456,000 to 1,137,000 and partner sexual abuse from 541,000 to 466,000. These are big falls, not rises (in keeping with the trend of the past 15 years or so.)
You can always expect some disparity between the BCS trend and the reported crime figures, but the vast disparity in that year suggests to me that whatever was happening, it was unlikely to be a straightforward rise in the number of violent incidents. Could it have been an increased awareness? Was there some very effective public education campaign that year, or a particularly compelling soap storyline? That’s possible. Rather more likely is that there may have been changes in how police recorded their reports. Was there a change in policy as to what kinds of calls would be ‘no-crimed’? Were there any new guidelines introduced for police as to what should be classified as a domestic violence incident? I honestly do not know, but if any readers have theories, I’d be delighted to hear them.
As for the more immediate issue, I believe I can quite confidently state that there is no evidence that there has been a rise in domestic violence as a direct result of the current economic situation and austerity measures. That’s not to say such a rise hasn’t happened, in all honesty I still expect to be confronted with a grim reversal, and we may know much more in January.
In the meantime I’m not convinced it serves anyone well to propagate outdated and misleading statistical claims.