Boris Johnson was right to claim crime has failed despite a rebuke from the official statistics watchdog, the business secretary has suggested.
Kwasi Kwarteng defended the prime minister for leaving out the rise in fraud cases when he made his inaccurate claim in the Commons – suggesting that voters did not consider fraud a crime affecting their “day-to-day lives”.
The cabinet minister said Mr Johnson was referring to “personal injury and crime in relation to individuals” when he told MPs that the government had been “cutting crime by 14 per cent”.
Mr Kwarteng told the BBC: “The point the prime minister was making is that crime that people experience in their day-to-day lives … in terms of burglary, in terms of physical injury, has gone down and that’s absolutely right.”
Labor MP Chris Bryant, chair of the select committee on standards, tweeted: “I can understand why Tories don’t want people to think fraud counts as crime.”
It followed a Home Office press release which said latest data showed “crime continues to fall under this government”, quoting home secretary Priti Patel as saying it demonstrated the Government’s approach “is working”.
The government had been placed under investigation by the UK Statistics Authority after receiving complaints about the claim.
Despite a fall in most crimes during coronavirus lockdowns, some are now reaching or exceeding pre-pandemic levels – with rises in some offenses like fraud offsetting reductions seen elsewhere, the Office for National Statistics said last week.
The figures also showed police recorded the highest number of rapes and sexual offenses in a 12-month period, while separate Home Office data detailed how the proportion of suspects being taken to court has fallen to a new record low and remains the lowest for rape cases .
In a letter to Alistair Carmichael the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman who raised the issue, UK Statistics Authority boss Sir David Norgrove said the government had presented crime figures in a “misleading way”.
But appearing on the BBC’s sunday morning programme, Mr Kwarteng said he did not know “what the evidence is” for the PM’s claim not being true. “All I know is certainly on the doorstep, people are saying that there is progress being made,” he said.
It comes after the minister who was responsible for tackling fraud, Lord Agnew, dramatically quit the Government over the “schoolboy” handling of fraudulent Covid-19 business loans.
In the letter to Mr Carmichael, Sir David said: “In this case, the Home Office news release presented the latest figures in a misleading way.
“Likewise, the prime minister referred to a 14% reduction in crime… This figure also excludes fraud and computer misuse, though the prime minister did not make that clear.
“If fraud and computer misuse are counted in total crime as they should be, total crime in fact increased by 14% between the year ending September 2019 and the year ending September 2021.”
The watchdog works to “promote and safeguard official statistics”, and can intervene if it considers a politician or government department has misused or misrepresented figures.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “Suggesting that fraud is a lesser crime not experienced by people in their day-to-day lives is shamefully out of touch and disrespectful to victims across the country, scammed by dangerous criminals and losing hard-earned life savings.
“Yet again the Conservatives are downgrading or ignoring criminal fraud – just as Rishi Sunak did when writing off £4.3bn of public money. This chaotic and incompetent Government is a complete disgrace – they cannot be trusted to take our safety and security seriously.”
Mr Carmichael added: “The failure of Conservative ministers to stand up to Boris Johnson’s dishonesty and lack of decency is doing huge damage to public trust. Instead of apologizing for misleading the public over rising crime, Kwasi Kwarteng doubled down on this blatant lie.
“Boris Johnson must come before Parliament as soon as possible to correct the record.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.