Criminal misinformation

I’m delighted to see that media representatives are to be included on Charles Clarke’s panel considering how the UK’s national crime statistics are put together and communicated, as reported by the BBC. Government’s failure to provide a set of figures which make sense to the public – or more specifically, the electorate – has been an embarrassment.
Not long ago, I was working for National Statistics, and lobbying hard for the general public to be recognised as a key audience, if not the key audience, for stats like these. Invariably, I lost out in an argument over mathematics and/or philosophy. Terms like ‘dumbing down’ were often thrown around. The result is that people across the country have totally mixed-up views of what is actually happening around them: crime is down, fear of crime is up. Let’s hope the media can represent the public’s interest.
The figures need to be clearly expressed – regardless of the complexity of the calculation process, or the statistical technicalities involved. And they need to be made widely accessible, at local geography level. We still need a single government website where ordinary people can type in their postcodes, and find out all the hard facts about what’s happening in their local area. Neighbourhood Statistics could have been that website; but a brief glance at the jargon-laden language shows where its focus lies.