How wrong can we be?

We are all used to thinking that things are a lot worse than they actually are.  The media make their money from convincing us things are bad and going to get worst.  Opposing political parties insist we are all doomed except of course for the government of the day that state things are always on an upward trend except of course for the bad bits that only they can fix.  Of course we don’t believe them because we remember how they were the same before they came into government.

We’re all so used to bad news propaganda that we insist that things aren’t as good as the good old days.  That may well be but it doesn’t mean that things are as bad as we think they are.  A recent public survey reveals the perceptions of the British Public along with the reality.  I’ve put my guesses at what the answers are before looking at the actual answers and the general public perception.  Just how broken is Broken Britain?

1. Benefit Fraud.  We are always told particularly by the current government and sympathetic media that all our hard earned taxes are being wasted by benefit fraud, people who claim for state support that they are not entitled too.

Benefit Scroungers

Benefit Scroungers

For every £100 of state benefit, how much do you think is wasted on fraudulent claims?

Stephens guess £1.30

Public Perception £24.00

Reality Check – Only £0.70 of public state benefits are claimed illegally. Almost an irrelevance if the whole benefit total wasn’t so huge.  Surely not the biggest factor in improving government finances.  The public perception is out by a factor of 34 but whose fault is that?

2. Immigration – Surely the biggest political concern in Britain at the moment.  We’re a relatively small island and the population density of England alone is in the very top few of any nation on earth.  The population is only going one way and apparently it is all the fault of immigration.  So what percentage of the British population is foreign born?



Stephens guess is 11%

Public Perception is 31%

Reality Check is 13% and with illegal immigration 15%

Whilst people believe that 30% of the British population is non-white, the actual figure is 11%.  There could also be confusion as to what makes an immigrant.  Some might say those who have arrived in the last 5 years, others those who arrived 50 years ago.

3. Crime –  We know the world is a dangerous place.  We’re told crime is falling but we don’t believe it.  We all see the images of people murdered or beaten up on the news.  It’s a miracle if we get to die of natural causes or so the newspapers would have us believe.  Of course the murders are bad but outside a few areas of London and big cities, they are such a rarity that they are highlighted on TV and we remember the handful for months on end until the next one occurs.


If murder wasn’t bad enough, lets scare everyone by hyping it up!

Stephen’s guess – Crime is going down and compared to when I was little, crime has gone down a lot.

Public perception –  58% of people don’t believe crime is falling

Reality Check – Crime in 2012 was 19% lower than 2006 and 53% lower than 1995.  51% of people think violent crime is going up when in reality it too is falling sharply.    Personally despite living in one of the poorer parts of the region, I don’t know anyone who had been murdered, assaulted or even been robbed (without guns or knives).

4. Teenage Pregnancy – I’m obviously not in the best position to talk about this but we are forever being told that morality rates are going down and that families have broken down and the teenage girls in Britain have sex at the youngest age in Europe and most else of the world and that they then go on to have children and live fraudulent lives on benefits.  What percentage of girls under sixteen get pregnant?

Teenage pregnancy

These papers particularly like it if the grandparents and great grandparents are all under 45 and unemployed.

Stephens guess – less than 1% maybe 0.1% even.  It has to be tiny.

Public perception – 15% of girls under 16 are pregnant.

Reality Check – Official figures indicate just 0.6% of girls under 16 become pregnant.  From that figure alone, society has not totally fallen apart and I’d guess the figures are not that much different than in 1914.

5. Foreign Aid:  The country is going bust what with benefit fraud illegal immigration and teenagers getting free houses and hospital care for their babies and yet we are the only major nation that meets the United Nations target for giving foreign aid.  The government argues it is our duty and that Britain is setting an example and half the world will love us for helping them.  Detractors say that giving foreign aid is good but not to increase it whilst cutting back on our own poor or indeed when almost every other government department is losing its budget.  Besides which some of the nations we give to are corrupt, others have space programmes or spend too much on their military whilst others are out and out hostile countries like Russia, Argentina and even China.  So how much of the national budget is spent on foreign aid.

Foreign Aid

Foreign Aid

Stephens Guess – Just above 1% and slowly growing.

Public Perception – 26% believe foreign aid is in the top three government budgets!!

Reality Check – Foreign Aid comprises just 1.1% of the British government expenditure.  Of course it is a huge amount of money but just one of many tiny elements of spending.  Maybe we should be proud our country wants to help the poor more than anyone else.

6. Jobseekers Allowance – The media and government would have us believe that the unemployed are useless, lazy and generally a waste of space.  Having been made redundant several times and written out thousands of applications, I know this to be nonsense.  However it is promoted that public spending on pensions and retired is good and on the unemployed is bad.  But how does the spending add up and which gets the most money?


£7 a day is roughly how much state benefit unemployed people get for 6 months.

Stephens guess: Job Seekers Allowance is pitiful and only available for a few months to unemployed people so I’d say it is 10 times less than pensions.

Public perceptions: 29% of people think more money is spent on the unemployed than on old age pensions.

Reality Check – The government spend £74.2 billion on old age pensions each year and just £4.9 billion on the unemployed.  Think about it, its obvious there are only 1-3 million unemployed no matter whose figures you believe.  The value of the payment is less and it lasts for just 6 months.    There are over 10 million old aged people in Britain, their pensions are higher than for the unemployed and they can claim them for the rest of their lives.

The whole bias against the unemployed makes no sense.  Very few ask to be unemployed and many old people have spent periods of time being unemployed.  Generally older people have less expenses, surviving on £70 a week when you are 35 with rent or mortgage to pay is just pathetic.  Whereas once people with pensions deserved extra respect for their effort in 2 world wars, most pensioners today didn’t fight for the country and are simply like working aged people but older and were lucky enough to work and retire in a more secure age than their parents and their children.

How did your guesses go?  Are things similar in your country as in the U.K.?

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including a #1 seller, I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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6 Responses to How wrong can we be?

  1. EBotziou says:

    Very interesting post Stephen – you missed out Britain’s weather though…what are the odds/percentage rate of it raining on bank holidays??!


    • Thanks Ekaterina. I think the British weather one for bank holidays would need quite a lot of research. I’m not sure about it myself. When we get hot and sunny bank holidays, it is the best thing in the world but we do get plenty of rainy ones. Maybe that is because most of them are in April and May instead of July and early August when it is supposedly warmest.

      One thing is for sure, nothing is more annoying than working for weeks during sunny weather only for it to be raining on that special weekend before going back to work on Tuesday and it is sunny again.

      I always felt slightly better if it rained before during and after the bank holiday 🙂


  2. sarij says:

    You could have been talking about the view in America. All the things you mentioned are constantly talked about in our media. Sadly our murder rate is in the thousands, mostly due to our inability to let go of our guns. This fear mongering by both the media and our politicians only fuel our need for personal security (guns).
    I won’t try to guess why this is happening across the pond, but over here it seems the media, which is owned by billionaires, is manufacturing these ‘problems”, in order to keep us from thinking about the real issues of the day: inequality and the changing economy. Better to keep us mad at others rather than have us turning on them.


    • Hi Sarij, I’m a little familiar with the events going on over there and it does seem some of the bad elements are worse over there. I know the murder rate is 18 times higher in the USA than the UK. We never get to see guns except for armed police at airports etc.

      We do have our own media interests here but thankfully there is legislation to limit ownership and on television, impartiality.

      It seems very much the old idea of dividing the population with petty matters so those in charge can keep control over the things that really matter and what could make many more people happy.


  3. Hi Stephan,
    As usual a well conceived and usually eloquent article. My guess is that human mind loves misery. If there is a problem or insecurity, mind has a cause of action otherwise it will fall into irrelevance. Perhaps that is the reason to interpret everything negatively.
    Things are always bad or good as these always were except the technology which is constantly improving but alas often at the cost of environment.


  4. Sorry I forgot to mention similar notions here in India. It is about Hindu mythology. I had written about it sometimes back. It is:


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