The risk of things


In 2003 we did some research (for a magazine article*) on the relative risk of death/injury from various causes – to combat media scaremongering over issues such as violent crime and AIDS. It's highly likely that comparative risk between, say, death caused by transport-related accident and death caused by crime is the same now as when we wrote the article (since, as we've demonstrated elsewhere on Media Hell, violent crime as a cause of injury/death has not significantly risen).

The world is nothing like as crime-infested, dangerous and damaging to your health as the Daily Mail would have you believe [The following figures are for England & Wales, 2002 – from the Office for National Statistics]...

Total deaths (all causes): 535,356

Total deaths by various diseases:
HIV disease (AIDS): 197
Diseases of circulatory system (eg heart diseases and strokes): 209,948
Neoplasms (cancer): 140,453
Pneumonia: 32,769
Infectious and parasitic diseases: 4,335
Asthma: 1,276

Total deaths by accident: 10,714
Transport related accident: 6,459
Accidental falls: 2,511
Accidental Drowning/submersion: 191
Exposure to fire/smoke: 352
Accidental poisoning: 1,648

Deaths by suicide/intentional self-harm: 3,319

Assault (total): 385
Assault by "rifle, shotgun and larger firearm discharge": 7 (2001 figure; 2002 not available)
Assault by "other and unspecified firearm discharge": 24 (2001 figure)
Assault by "sharp object": 118 (2001 figure)
Assault by "pushing from high place": 1 (2001 figure)
Assault by "hanging, strangulation and suffocation": 34 (2001 figure)

(ONS and World Health Organisation [WHO] categories for death by assault seem to differ from police definitions of homicide, so it's not clear how the above figure of 385 deaths by assault fits with the recorded police homicide figure of 886. Possibly, if a heart attack occurs, that's categorised as such under ONS/WHO categories, but as homicide by police – but that's speculation on our part).

("AIDS" isn't a category used by ONS. They always say "HIV Disease". As far as I'm aware, everybody who has AIDS also has HIV Disease. But not everybody with HIV Disease is classified as having AIDS.)

Miscellaneous death statistics (from 'Equinox', Channel 4 TV, 13/4/99):
• For every death from sexually transmitted diseases there were 20 a century ago.
• For every death from infectious diseases there were 130 in the middle ages.
• In Britain each year approximately 20 people are electrocuted by their alarm clock or bedside light.
• Another 20 are killed falling over as they get out of bed.
• 600 per year die from falling down the stairs.

Risk of crime

• Total recorded homicides (England & Wales, for year 2001/2002): 886
(Source: British Crime Survey 2001/2002)

• The homicide rate in Britain today is roughly the same as in the mid-19th century.
(The Independent, 25/9/1996)

• For every one person murdered today, ten were murdered in the middle ages.
(Equinox, Channel 4 TV, 13/4/99)

• One in three elderly women feels "very unsafe", but fewer than one in 4,000 will be assaulted. (The Times, 11/9/96)

• Total recorded child abductions (England & Wales, for year 2001/2002): 583
(Source: British Crime Survey 2001/2002)

The number of children murdered by strangers (in Britain) averages below 10 a year. For example, Home Office figures show that the total in the decade from 1988-1997 was 57, an average of six a year. (The Guardian, 2/8/99)

"The chances of a child aged one to four being killed by a stranger are less than one in a million, and have fallen by a third since 1988, while the risk to a child of five to 15 is even less." (Quoted from a front-page Guardian story, 2/8/99, criticising scaremongering tactics of charities such as NSPCC)

According to The Guardian, 12/7/2002, the average person in Britain is burgled only once every 50 years. That seems unbelievable, but is confirmed by the recorded police figures (approx 200 domestic burglaries per 10,000 households per year):

Recorded domestic burglaries per 10,000 households: 214 (England/Wales, 2001/2002)
Recorded domestic burglaries per 10,000 households: 200 (England/Wales, 2000/2001)
Recorded domestic burglaries per 10,000 households: 220 (England/Wales, 1999/2000)
(Source: British Crime Survey 2001/2002)

Half of all domestic burglaries have a value of property stolen less than £500.
(Source: British Crime Survey 2001/2002).

More from the British Crime Survey (generally accepted as the most authoritative source on British crime statistics) for 2001/2002:

"Between 1999 and 2001/02, crime fell by 14 per cent… This figure includes falls in domestic burglary (down 23%), vehicle thefts (down 14%) and common assaults (down 28%)."

"Almost one-third of respondents (30 per cent) believed that crime had risen 'a lot', and a further third felt that crime had risen 'a little' over the previous two years. This is despite the total number of crimes reported to the BCS falling by 14 per cent between 1999 and 2001/02."

"There was a notable increase in the proportion believing that crime had risen 'a lot' in the first quarter of 2002, rising to 35% from 27% in the final three months of 2001. This period witnessed a heightened degree of press coverage on crime, which particularly focused on a claimed rise in crime… Readers of the national tabloid papers are much more likely to consider the national crime rate to have increased over this period, compared to broadsheet readers (42 per cent versus 26 per cent)."

"Since 1995, the BCS has reported a fall in crime at each survey. There was a 22 per cent fall in the crime measured by the BCS over the last five years from 1997 to 2001/02"

"The increase in violent crime recorded by the police, in contrast to the estimates from the BCS, appears to be largely due to increased recording by police forces. Taking into account recording changes, the real trend in violence against the person in 2001/02 may have been a reduction of around five per cent".


From the Statistical Abstract of the United States, (1999 figures):
Number of injuries involving toilets: 56,424
Number of injuries involving lawn mowers: 70,640
Number of injuries involving ceilings and walls: 259,301
Number of injuries involving beds: 455,027

31,000 people per year in the US are injured by their "grooming devices", compared to 16,670 injured by hatchets and axes. (The Independent, 4/10/99)

Meanwhile, in Britain, 60 people a year are seriously injured putting on their socks.
(Equinox, Channel 4 TV, 13/4/99)

*Article originally printed in the Idler, issue 32, Winter 2003