Perceptions are not reality: the top 10 we get wrong

Perceptions are not reality: the top 10 we get wrong
Ipsos Mori
09.07.13

 

King’s College / Ipsos MORIA new survey by Ipsos MORI for the Royal Statistical Society and King’s College London highlights how wrong the British public can be on the make-up of the population and the scale of key social policy issues.  The top ten misperceptions are:

 

1.       Teenage pregnancy: on average, we think teenage pregnancy is 25 times higher than official estimates:  we think that 15% of girls under 16 get pregnant each year, when official figures suggest it is around 0.6%.

 

2.       Crime: 58% do not believe that crime is falling, when the Crime Survey for England and Wales shows that incidents of crime were 19% lower in 2012 than in 2006/07 and 53% lower than in 1995.  51% think violent crime is rising, when it has fallen from almost 2.5 million incidents in 2006/07 to under 2 million in 2012.

 

3.       Job-seekers allowance: 29% of people think we spend more on JSA than pensions, when in fact we spend 15 times more on pensions (£4.9bn vs £74.2bn.).

 

4.       Benefit fraud: people estimate that 34 times more benefit money is claimed fraudulently than official estimates: the public think that £24 out of every £100 spent on benefits is claimed fraudulently, compared with official estimates of £0.70 per £100.

 

5.       Foreign aid: 26% of people think foreign aid is one of the top 2-3 items government spends most money on, when it actually made up 1.1% of expenditure (£7.9bn) in the 2011/12 financial year.  More people select this as a top item of expenditure than pensions (which cost nearly ten times as much, £74bn) and education in the UK (£51.5bn).

 

6.       Religion: we greatly overestimate the proportion of the population who are Muslims: on average we say 24%, compared with 5% in England and Wales.  And we underestimate the proportion of Christians: we estimate 34% on average, compared with the actual proportion of 59% in England and Wales.

 

7.       Immigration and ethnicity: the public think that 31% of the population are immigrants, when the official figures are 13%]. Even estimates that attempt to account for illegal immigration suggest a figure closer to 15%.  There are similar misperceptions on ethnicity: the average estimate is that Black and Asian people make up 30% of the population, when it is actually 11% (or 14% if we include mixed and other non-white ethnic groups).

 

8.       Age: we think the population is much older than it actually is – the average estimate is that 36% of the population are 65+, when only 16% are.

 

9.       Benefit bill: people are most likely to think that capping benefits at £26,000 per household will save most money from a list provided (33% pick this option), over twice the level that select raising the pension age to 66 for both men and women or stopping child benefit when someone in the household earns £50k+.  In fact, capping household benefits is estimated to save £290m, compared with £5bn for raising the pension age and £1.7bn[xiii] for stopping child benefit for wealthier households.

 

10.   Voting: we underestimate the proportion of people who voted in the last general election – our average guess is 43%, when 65% of the electorate actually did (51% of the whole population).

 

These misperceptions present clear issues for informed public debate and policy-making, which will be discussed at an event being run by the Royal Statistical Society, King’s College London and Ipsos MORI today, as part of the International Year of Statistics.