It’s the sort of deadpan headline you’d expect to see on the Daily Mash, but yesterday the Independent published the story, “British public wrong about nearly everything”.
The report, based on one of the more striking surveys you’re likely to see, shows that public perception of social issues is wildly out of step with reality.
For example, we (the British public) think that £24 of every £100 of benefits is fraudulently claimed when the true figure is actually 70 pence. We think that people of black and Asian ethnicity make up 30 per cent of the population when the number is closer to 11 per cent. Some 58 per cent of us do not believe crime is falling; yet it is down by 19 per cent compared to six years ago.
Perhaps most staggeringly, teen pregnancy is thought to be 25 times higher than official estimates. The commonly held belief that 15 per cent of girls under 16 years of age become pregnant every year is laughable next to the real figure: 0.6 per cent.
Such myths partially exist because of governments proudly distorting facts repeated blindly by a press free to reinforce prejudice and leave misconceptions unchallenged. That’s how it’s always been.
This must be a coincidental anomaly, but yesterday the Daily Mail also published a small correction, admitting it was wrong about the number of people on incapacity benefit who had dropped claims to avoid taking a new medical assessment. The reported figure of 878,000 should have been 19,700 (although the Mail accidentally omits the latter from its correction). These stats were supplied by Tory chairman Grant Shapps and Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith. They’ve had their comeuppance, of course, having been told off by the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) back in May.
You can only wonder as to why UKSA only acts on such claims in quiet retrospect, rather than preventing them in the first place. Doing so might even improve the worth of face-value reportage.