9 Jul 2013

10 things Britons think about Britain that are wrong

Britons dramatically overestimate the amount of teenage pregnancy, crime and benefit fraud in the UK. A new report by Ipsos Mori checks the perceptions against the truth.

Britons have a distorted view of their country, says a new report.

We think there is more benefit fraud, more crime and more underage pregnancies than there actually are, says polling agency Ipsos Mori which has just published 10 of the most popular statistical misperceptions about UK society today.

People also overestimate how much we spend on foreign aid and jobseekers allowance.

Ipsos Mori interviewed 1,015 adults in the UK to gauge public opinion on social policy issues and contrasted perceptions with the statistics drawn from the Office of National Statistics.

The report is part of a collaboration with the Royal Statistical Society which examines how to form policy when public perception is out of kilter with the evidence. A conference in King’s College, London, will explore the issue Tuesday night.

Less diverse

Only 0.6 per cent of girls under 16 get pregnant each year, but Britons surveyed think that it is 15 per cent, 25 times higher than reality.

We hugely overestimate benefit fraud, too, says the survey, assuming that £24 out of every £100 spent on social welfare goes on fraudulent claims. Official estimates say the total is 34 times lower: only £0.70 is lost to fraud.

We think the country is older and more ethnically diverse than it actually is. The British believe that 30 per cent of the UK is black or Asian, when only 11 per cent of the population come from these backgrounds. We think the population is much older than it actually is – the average estimate is that 36 per cent of the population are 65+, when only 16 per cent are.

And we assume that 31 per cent of people in Britain people are immigrants. The actual figure is 13 per cent.

Spending estimates

Perceptions of government spending differed significantly from the reality, with people overestimating how much the government would save by capping household benefits at £26,000, a policy recently introduced by the Conservatives. That policy will only trim £290m from the welfare budget, though a third assumed that this cap was the one policy that would save the most cash.

Stopping child benefit for families with income over £50,000, would save £1.7bn, though only 14 per cent thought that was the most effective cost-saving measure. In fact, the single policy that would save the most cash is raising the pension age to 66, which is predicted to save £5bn. 12 per cent of respondents thought that was the case.

Finally, though we may not actually know how the government is using our money, we are more politically engaged than we give ourselves credit for: respondents guessed that about 43 per cent of the population voted in the last election, when 65 per cent actually did.