Scottish Victimisation Telephone Survey 2020: main findings

Main findings from the Scottish Victimisation Telephone Survey 2020.

This document is part of a collection

1. Introduction and background to the SVTS

This chapter includes:

  • Information on why the SVTS was introduced and the purpose it serves
  • Key points to note on the survey methodology (i.e. how it was carried out)
  • Details on the findings included in this report, and where additional results and technical information can be found

1.1 What is the SVTS and what purpose does it serve?

The Scottish Victimisation Telephone Survey (SVTS) 2020 is a social survey which asked people about their experiences and perceptions of crime, safety, and policing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The results are based on a sample of around 2,700 telephone interviews conducted in September and October 2020. The survey is designed to be nationally representative of all private residential households in Scotland.

The SVTS was developed by the Scottish Government, in partnership with Ipsos MORI and ScotCen[1], to collect evidence on the extent and prevalence of crime in Scotland during the COVID-19 pandemic. A consequence of the pandemic was that all face-to-face interviewing for Scottish Government run social surveys, including the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (SCJS)[2], was suspended to help prevent the spread of the virus[3]. The suspension of the SCJS opened up an evidence gap with particular challenges for assessing the volume of crime in Scotland not reported to the police, where other sources cannot provide an alternative[4].

The Scottish Government introduced the SVTS as a discrete and additional collection to the SCJS. As such it should not be viewed as a replacement to the latter, with Scottish Government statisticians keeping under review options for the resumption of the SCJS including an assessment of the continued impact of social distancing measures on the running of face-to-face social surveys in Scotland. Users will be kept informed of developments in this area through the ScotStat network.

The main aims of the SVTS 2020 were to:

  • collect data whilst face-to-face interviewing on the SCJS was not possible
  • enable respondents to tell us about their experiences and perceptions of crime, safety, and policing; including crime not reported to the police
  • provide a reliable measure of adults' experience of crime
  • examine the varying risk and characteristics of crime for different groups of adults in the population
  • examine any changes in crime between the pre-COVID-19 period (September 2019 to the 23rd March 2020 when the UK's first national lockdown was introduced) and the period following this up to the end of September 2020
  • provide a complementary measure of crime to compare with police recorded crime statistics for the same period
  • provide information on public perceptions of crime, policing and safety issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including comparisons with data collected in England and Wales as part of the Telephone-operated Crime Survey for England and Wales (TCSEW)

1.2 What do I need to know when reading this report?

Detailed information about the design and methodology of the SVTS is provided in the accompanying Technical Report to help users understand the strengths and limitations of the survey's results. The sections below provide summary information on the reliability of survey estimates and how uncertainty around results is explained, as well as an overview of the content of this report and other SVTS supporting outputs.

1.3 Who is included and what does the SVTS cover?

The SVTS does not aim to provide an absolute estimate for all crime and has some notable exclusions.

The SVTS is a survey of adults living in private residential households (including private and social rented housing) and therefore does not provide information on crimes against adults living in other circumstances (for example tourists and those living in institutions or communal residences, such as prisons or hospitals, military bases and student accommodation). The survey also excludes people under the age of 16 and crimes against businesses.

The SVTS re-contacted around 6,800 earlier Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (SCJS) respondents who consented to providing their telephone number for the purpose of further research. In total, 2,654 SVTS interviews were completed.

The SVTS is primarily a victimisation survey which captures information on adults' experiences of violent crime and property crime, including those incidents not reported to the police. However, it does not capture data on all crimes – for example, crimes with no direct or specific victim to interview (e.g. speeding, drug possession and homicide).

As an alternative to the SCJS, the SVTS did not seek to replicate all questions asked in the SCJS (though all questions to allow the classifications of crimes were retained). For example, some areas were excluded, such as questions on drug use, stalking and harassment, partner abuse and sexual victimisation, due to concerns around safeguarding those responding on the telephone.

Throughout the report, the term 'crime' is used to refer to any in-scope incident recorded by the survey, occurring during the interview reference period and in Scotland, in which the respondent or their household as a whole was the victim[5].

The survey also explores perceptions of crime, safety, and policing in Scotland – as well as any changes "since the virus outbreak" (defined as since the start of the UK's first national lockdown on the 23rd March 2020).

1.4 How was the survey delivered?

Key points to note on the methodology are outlined below:

  • Survey frequency: the SVTS 2020 provides a unique snap-shot in time during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are no current plans to carry out another wave of this survey, however depending on the value to users of these statistics, the length of the SCJS suspension and resources available, a follow-up survey by telephone may be considered later in 2021. Should this happen, Scottish Government statisticians will inform users of the plans and invite feedback on the potential content of a second survey.
  • Sample: the sample for the SVTS was comprised of respondents who, when participating in the 2018/19 or 2019/20 SCJS, had agreed to be re-contacted for the purposes of further research. All respondents who had agreed, and who had provided a usable telephone number, were invited to take part in the SVTS.
  • Questionnaire: the questionnaire consists of a modular design completed by the interviewer using Computer-Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI). Annex C gives an overview of the questionnaire structure and general topics. The full questionnaire is available on the SVTS website. Socio-demographic question categories were expanded to include relevant COVID-19 concepts, such as key worker status[6] and furlough.
  • Fieldwork: the 2020 SVTS fieldwork ran for a little over six weeks from 11th September to 26th October 2020. Calls were carried out during mornings, afternoons and evenings, seven days a week. Each number was called a minimum of eight times (including at least one call each in the evening and the weekend) before a final outcome was recorded.
  • Interviews: in total, 2,654 telephone interviews were completed, representing a response rate of 39%[7].
  • Interview length: an average interview lasted around 17 minutes, though there was variation in interview length, depending on the respondent's reported experience of crime.
  • Time period covered: respondents were asked about incidents experienced in the 12 months prior to the month of interview (the reference period). The time period covered by the data on experiences of crime included in this report extends over 13 months (from the start of September 2019 to the end of September 2020).
  • Weighting: SVTS data is weighted to correct for the likelihood that people with certain characteristics (e.g. age, housing tenure etc.) may have been more or less likely to have taken part in the earlier SCJS survey, and (or) to have provided recontact details, and therefore taken part in the SVTS.
  • Pre-/post-lockdown period comparisons: it is possible to identify changes in the volume of crime between the pre-lockdown period (September 2019 to 23rd March 2020), and the period following this up to the end of September 2020[8].

For questions on perceptions of crime, respondents were asked whether they thought crime had gone up, down or remained the same since the virus outbreak, both in their local area and Scotland as a whole. For other attitudinal questions, respondents were typically asked two questions per topic – the first to establish how the respondent felt on the day of the interview, and the second to ask if their feelings had changed since the virus outbreak.

  • Police recorded crime comparisons: both the SVTS and police recorded crime provide data on experiences of crime during the COVID-19 pandemic, up to September 2020, which allows for comparisons to be made with crime in Scotland before and after the start of the UK's first national lockdown. Chapter 3 outlines these results.
  • England and Wales comparisons: the attitudinal questions were designed to allow comparisons to be made with some questions from the Telephone-operated Crime Survey for England and Wales (TCSEW)[9]. Chapter 4 outlines these results.

Further information about survey design and methodology is contained in the accompanying Technical Report.

1.5 Why are SVTS and SCJS results not comparable?

Whilst the SVTS covers similar topics to the SCJS, there are some key differences, outlined below, which mean SVTS and SCJS results are not comparable:

  • Mode effects: the interviews for the SVTS were conducted by telephone rather than face-to-face. Differences in survey mode can affect how people answer questions, and the detail which they are willing to divulge over the telephone may vary from circumstances where an interviewer is present in their home at the time of interview.
  • Sampling method: the SVTS re-contacted earlier SCJS respondents who consented to providing their telephone number for the purpose of further research, whereas the SCJS uses random selection from Royal Mail's postcode address file to select addresses for interview. Whilst data is weighted to be nationally representative of all private residential households, the sampling method may produce some differences.
  • Sample size: the SVTS achieved 2,654 interviews over a six week period, compared to around 5,500 SCJS interviews across 12 months. As such the SVTS is more limited in its ability to produce detailed breakdowns on the characteristics of crime (for example, the location of the incident or details of the offender). The smaller sample size also reduces the precision of the estimates.
  • Questionnaire length and content: the SVTS was designed to be, on average, 20 minutes in length to encourage participation by telephone and minimise respondent burden. The SCJS is typically 40 minutes in length. Due to this shorter interview time, a smaller number of questions were asked, several of which were unique to this survey (for example, those that make reference to the pandemic).

1.6 How reliable are SVTS results?

The SVTS collected information from a sample rather than from the whole population and therefore survey results are always estimates, not precise figures. This means that the results are subject to a margin of error which can have an impact on how the numbers should be interpreted.

To indicate the extent of uncertainty, this report presents key results on the extent and prevalence of crime using both best estimates and lower and upper estimates. The best estimate is the mean figure drawn from the sample. The lower and upper estimates are for the 95% confidence interval. Aside from these key findings, the majority of the analysis provided in the report focuses on best estimates.

Because of sampling variation, changes in reported estimates between population sub-groups may occur by chance. Standard statistical tests are therefore used to examine whether differences are likely to be due to chance. Only differences that are statistically significant at the 95% confidence level are described as differences or changes within this report[10].

Annex B provides further information on the relative strengths and limitations of crime surveys and police record crime data.

1.7 What findings are included in this report and where can I access additional results?

The report is split into chapters which focus on each of the topics covered in the survey questionnaire, including: the extent and prevalence of crime in Scotland; perceptions and feelings about crime, safety and policing during the pandemic; and consideration of how evidence from the SVTS compares to and complements police recorded crime statistics in Scotland, and for some of the attitudinal questions, TCSEW results from England and Wales.

In this report, crime measured by the SVTS is a product of two distinct groups being combined – violent and property crime (see box below).

SVTS crime groups

Violent crime includes the following distinct groups:

  • Assault (includes serious assault, minor assault with injury, minor assault with no or negligible injury, and attempted assault)
  • Robbery

Property crime includes the following distinct groups:

  • Housebreaking
  • Personal theft (excluding robbery)
  • Other household theft (including bicycle theft)
  • All motor vehicle related theft (including theft and attempted theft of and from a vehicle)
  • Vandalism (including motor vehicle and property vandalism)

Further details on each of these groups, and the process through which incidents are identified as specific crime types, are provided in the Technical Report.

However, due to the small sample sizes involved, only the headline property and violent crime groups are presented in this report.

SVTS crime estimates[11] are split into two time periods – September 2019 up to the UK's first national lockdown on the 23rd March 2020[12], and after this date up to the end of September 2020.

This report contains a range of demonstration tables and figures within the body of each chapter. Many of these tables and charts include breakdowns by respondent characteristics such as gender, age, victim status[13], rurality, area deprivation, and key worker status[14]. Annex D provides the full list and definitions of these characteristics.

A more comprehensive set of SVTS data tables are released alongside this report which present further breakdowns of results. The survey datasets and associated documentation will be available shortly after publication of this report from the UK Data Service.

1.8 How can I find out more?

This is an Experimental Statistics Publication for Scotland[15].

If you have any enquiries on this survey please contact the SCJS Project Team via



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