by Peter Franklin
Friday, 15
January 2021
Response
14:56

Stop stat-shaming the public

Telling the public that they're ignorant is not a way to convince them
by Peter Franklin
Telling people that they don’t know what they’re talking about is not an effective strategy

There’s no denying it. The sight of those miserly free school meal ‘hampers’ is truly rage-making. Of all the items on display, the most pathetic were what Sam Freedman (writing for PoliticsHome) described as “vegetable fragments” — half a tomato, a third of a pepper — individually wrapped in plastic. If we can’t even allow people the unthinkable luxury of a whole onion, then how do we expect them to ever hold down a job?

This is not treating the poor with dignity — and Freedman is quite right to point that out. However, he then goes to blame the ignorance of the general public for the shortcomings of welfare policy. Harshness is politically popular, he says, because the public believe “myths” about poverty:

An Ipsos-MORI study in 2013 found people thought, on average, that benefit fraud was 34 times more common than is actually the case. The 2017 British Social Attitudes survey found that, on average, people think 34% of all claimants are providing false information…
- Sam Freedman, Politics Home

Similar arguments are often made about overseas aid and immigration — with surveys showing that voters tend to over-estimate the relevant numbers.

The truth, of course, must be defended against falsehood. If politicians and journalists get their facts and figures wrong then that should be exposed. However, ‘stat-shaming’ the general public is unfair, misleading and counter-productive.

Firstly, it isn’t the private citizen’s business to be prepared for any social science researcher who may come their way with a clipboard. Secondly, they’re called opinion polls and social attitudes surveys for a reason: people are asked for their opinions and attitudes — it’s not an exam. Thirdly, the scribbling classes (in which I include myself) would do well to remember that we are used to being asked for our opinions — even to the extent of being paid for them. However, most people are not — and certainly not by the great-and-the-good. So when, on the rare occasion, this does happen we shouldn’t be surprised if some respondents use exaggeration to emphasise their point.

Given these realities, using an opinion survey to ask people factual questions and then judge them on the accuracy of their answers is, to say the least, unhelpful.

In any case, telling people that they don’t know what they’re talking about is not an effective strategy. The Remain campaign tested that approach to destruction both before and after the Brexit referendum. Furthermore, an excessive focus on what the other side gets wrong about selected facts can narrow one’s own perspective.

Pro-welfare campaigners need to remember this when advocating for the poor. It’s all very well to reject the Victorian narrative about the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor. But an inverted-Victorianism — in which personal responsibility goes unrecognised and unrewarded — is also distorted. Those who struggle and strive to stand on their own two feet deserve to have their dignity respected too.

If instead of scoring points, we address legitimate concerns about fairness, we might just get somewhere.

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J J
J J
1 year ago

The ‘public’ are fairly ignorant on most issues. That is not an insult, it’s a factual statement backed up by research. In a sense, we cannot help but be ignorant in a world where the amount of data and complexity is too great for any single person to comprehend.

Of course, this phenomenon is exploited for political purposes. Yes, people overestimate welfare fraud. They also overestimate tax fraud. Tax avoidance (fraud) is about 4.6 billion, which is less than 1% of tax revenue.

They are also confused on poverty and inequality. Most people assume poverty is getting worse. Absolute poverty is at a record low. They assume inequality is getting worse. It’s actually been flat for the past 30 years and marginally fallen over the past 10. They assume household income is falling or static, when it’s at a record high. They assume the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. The data shows, for the past 10 years, the income of the bottom 20% consistently grew faster than the top 20%

Most people assume the ‘poor’ have a greater tax burden. However the bottom 50% of income earners actually pay no net tax (ie they receive more from the State than they pay in tax).

People assume wealth inequality in the UK is high and has dramatically increased in the past. In fact, the UK has one of the lower level of wealth inequalities in the developed world and the figure has not significantly increased over the long term.

People assume crime is at record levels. Almost all types of crime are at a record low. So it’s not just benefit fraud / crime they overestimate.

People assume we have fewer police than ever before. We actually have a lot more police officers than we had in 2003, but fewer than the record level we had in 2010 (although we are now committed to go back to the 2010 level)

I could go on…

George Lake
George Lake
1 year ago
Reply to  J J

An excellent synopsis, although slightly marred in your first expletive by the unnecessary use of the vernacular, rather than the correct word ‘copulate -copulating’.

Paul Goodman
Paul Goodman
1 year ago
Reply to  J J

Good to see that not all your comments are just rude. Interestingly all the things you correctly list above about what people assume; crime levels, wealth inequality etc. are not the things that the government are saying. If anything they are opposition claims. Are these the things that people believe because the government tells them? I cannot see that the Government is saying anything different from all the things you assert above.

J J
J J
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Goodman

My argument is the common cultural narrative in most developed countries is left wing:

The rich are getting richer, poor are getting poorer, inequality is getting worse, poverty is rife, corruption is widespread, the market controls everything, you are a victim and the ‘establishment’ are your oppressors, what they have is yours and they stole if from you, be angry, be outraged. Let us fight them together, show our virtue and create the promised land.

That narrative, as I pointed out above, is factually incorrect. The UK Conservative government do attempt to challenge this left wing narrative, but it’s an almost impossible task. They are fighting all of the State infrastructure, the MSM and political opposition. They have also complicated matters by attempting to appear ‘socially liberal’ to capture centre left voters. Or at least, they refuse to surrender the ‘moral high ground’. ‘Inequality is good’ is a platform few Conservative politicians will stand on.

The situation is further complicated as much of the ‘populist right’ have embraced this left wing narrative. They have simply added nationalism to the equation – national socialism rather than international socialism.

Paul Goodman
Paul Goodman
1 year ago
Reply to  J J

A perspicacious summary. Someone once said that truth was like Poetry. But nobody likes f’in poetry.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago
Reply to  J J

Just because you have all these glib numbers showing up is down and down is up, up and down still are what they are. Regressive taxes like VAT, import duty, Petrol tax, BBC extortion, and so on, are very unevenly taken as a part of net wealth. The lower 50% earners may get back more than they pay in income tax, but the problem is what gets counted, and how.

Crime is up. That most crime is now decriminalized messes with the statistics. That and that used TVs and cameras and stuff like that are almost worthless has been why there has been a big drop in burglary since the old days, but do not take that as more inclination to being law abiding, just made lots of crime not worth bothering with – that and under reporting, and decriminalizing, and so people like you say crime is reducing… but it really is not.

J J
J J
1 year ago
Reply to  7882 fremic

Sorry, you seem an almost perfect example of someone who believes in the false narrative I was referring to. All of the data I referenced is available from ONS. It’s not a secret. I am not using any special statistical tricks.

You mention VAT being regressive. Again, that is a common misconception. Rich people pay far more in VAT than poor people. Yes, as a percentage it’s smaller, but that is irrelevant. You can’t fund the country with a percentage, you fund it with hard currency.

Any taxes poor people pay are not net taxes, the government give with one hand then take with another. The person concerned is still being paid by the State. Rich people are also far more likely to pay their licence fee and pay more in petrol duty.

Crime is most certainly not up. The issue you reference are related to recorded crime. In the UK any respectable social scientist, or knowledgable lay person, uses the national crime survey, that has been running for 40 years. That shows crime is at a historical low and is not impacted by the issues you mention.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
1 year ago
Reply to  J J

Well, this is quite an good example of the sort of thing the article is about. There are three propositions to disentangle.

1. A, presumably accurate, survey shows crime figures for England and Wales falling from 1995 onwards.
2. But police reported figures have been rising for the past 5 years.
3. Public perception is reportedly that (a) police figures are inaccurate (b) the police are increasingly failing to to deal with crime.

The discrepancy between (1) and (2) is real and important: it suggests that at the very least police are measuring something different, and certainly goes to support point 3(a). Points 3(a) and 3(b) are connected: probably (a) is often a result of (b). But if 3(a) is true, as it may well be, then 3(b) is at least plausible. Of course 3(b) is actually what the general public care about.

So the useful response to “The public are losing confidence in the police” is not “The public must be wrong because crime figures are falling”. It ought to be to ask the public whether they do indeed believe that, if so, whether that belief is well-founded, and what can and should be done about it.

J J
J J
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

The crime survey was designed to understand unreported crime and changes in the way police record crime. It’s supposed to be different to the reported crime figures. So the discrepancy is not a concern (it would be a concern if they were the same)

People may feel the figures are wrong. But then facts don’t care about feelings.

The notion that every concern must be considered ‘legitimate and justified’ is partly why we are in such a social and cultural mess. It’s the ‘victimhood culture’. Sometimes people need to be confronted with the facts and told their concerns are not legitimate.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
1 year ago
Reply to  J J

I disagree. People look to the police to protect them from crime. If it is generally accepted that the figures the police record and report are, in some sense “wrong” and indeed, expected to be wrong, then the public have a right to be concerned.

Public perception of crime is composed of many factors. One is the actual level of crime, of course. Another is the risk of crime to the specific individual. Yet another is the likelihood of their receiving the support they want from the police in the event of crime occurring. These are different things and it is not helpful to airily tell people that their concerns are not justified. What are their concerns, what are the reasons for those concerns, are those reasons valid, and can they be addressed?

J J
J J
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

With all respect, you don’t understand the subject very well (no reason why you should). There is always going to be ‘unreported crime’. You can’t force people to report crime. That’s not a failure of the system. In addition, it’s not that the police are not recording crime, in some areas they seem to be over-reporting.

The notion that ‘crime is getting worse’ has existed in every generation. It’s partly why the crime survey came about. The reality is that crime is not getting worse and has not been for sometime (for the past 25 years its been falling year on year). We simply have much better living standards and more effective policing (partly down to technology). We have more police officers per capita now than we had since the 1950s.

I am afraid if people’s concerns are inconsistent with the facts, then we should confront them with the facts. Part of the current political crisis has been caused because we keep indulging everyone’s ‘concerns’.

A recent example is ‘food insecurity’. We are honestly expected to believe that all of our children are starving to death, like little African children in the midst of a famine. With their sad little sunken faces, just begging for a slice of bread to survive.

We all know it’s bollocks. Most kids are down the kebab shop / chippy or stuffing themselves with chocolate bars. Which is why we have an ‘obesity problem’. But of course we can’t say that.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
1 year ago
Reply to  J J

With all respect, you don’t understand the subject very well (no reason why you should).

Oh dear. Well, I suppose that if you start from the position that your understanding of these issues is somehow more correct than any other, then it will necessarily seem to you that anyone who disagrees with you understands it less well than you. But that doesn’t make you right, it only makes you impervious to argument (and, to coin a phrase, no reason why you should be pervious, I suppose).

You say “There is always going to be ‘unreported crime’. You can’t force people to report crime. That’s not a failure of the system.” I suggest that this is incorrect. If people lose faith in the ability of the police to do anything about crime, they will be less likely to report it. So the question remains, are people less confident in the ability of police to protect them, their families and their property; and if that trend is real, why do they believe that, and in particular is that belief grounded in reality.

“The reality is that crime is not getting worse” is not the same as saying that people are less affected by it, or that the police is not less effective at dealing with it. Perceptions are real things in themselves and need to be understood, not dismissed as merely the product of imperfect understanding. That’s rather the point of this article.

J J
J J
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Putting your ad hominem to one side.

The point remains that most crime always has gone unreported. There is no evidence crime is more unreported than in the past.

You are buying into an often cited troupe that ‘things were better in the good old days’. They were not. The data is clear, the chances of being a victim of crime is lower now than at any point since the crime survey began in 1983.

Perceptions do matter, particularly if they are wrong. And we only change them by confronting people with the actual facts, which is what I am doing.

You are going to have to live with the awful truth that you are less likely to be the victim of a crime than at anytime in our past.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
1 year ago
Reply to  J J

The point remains that most crime always has gone unreported. There is no evidence crime is more unreported than in the past.

If there’s no evidence, then perhaps there should be? After all, why crime goes unreported, and whether the public trust in the police is changing seem important questions to resolve, and as you say, depend on “the actual facts”, which you say are not known.

the chances of being a victim of crime is lower now than at any point since the crime survey began in 1983

Only true if you exclude fraud and computer misuse, it seems.

“You are buying into …” “You are going to have to live with” don’t seem to have anything to do with what I said. And as for:

Putting your ad hominem to one side.

Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it, Prof. “you don’t understand the subject very well”

J J
J J
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

“If there’s no evidence, then perhaps there should be?”

Classic. I take it back, you clearly have a very strong grasp of the scientific method and the need for objective evidence.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
1 year ago
Reply to  J J

Thank you.

But I think this little exchange illustrates the point of the article rather well.

Going back to the discussion abour benefit fraud, for example, it’s clear that a large proportion of the people surveyed were expressing a view not directly answering the question. The view of about a third of respondents can best be summarised as saying that they thought a large amount of benefit money goes to people whom they do not think should be getting it. This is an opinion about the benefit system and it is a political view not a socio-economic statistic. It seems rather important to know that a third of voters might disagree with some of the fundamentals of the welfare system. In particular, dismissing their opinions on the grounds that they do not know or do not understand the numbers is not a worthy debating tactic. It is in fact a dishonest attempt to evade putting forward arguments for one point of view by dismissing the other as uninformed.

Similarly, let us consider the general public’s view of crime. There are the crime numbers and the public perception of those numbers. If public perception is higher then, just as with the benefit fraud, the perception is a reality: that is, what believe believe is a fact, a fact about their beliefs, and those beliefs are telling us something. What is it that underlies those beliefs? It is almost certainly nothing to do with reading the official number and misinterpreting them due to an inability with statistics. It’s saying something about peoples’ lived experiences. What that is, I don;t presume to say. Again, if sufficiently many of the voters believe, for example, that they are not getting the outcomes they want from policing policy, then it is bootless to tell them they are ignorant. It is for the voters in general to say what they want, not for credentialled experts to tell them that they do not know what they want, or, as experts, that they are wrong to want it.

J J
J J
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Many peoples beliefs deviate from reality because we are scared of stating facts. I have no concern about why you believe in non facts. Once confronted with the facts you should be ashamed for continuing to hold a perception that contradicts those facts. And those people should be castigated and not ‘understood’. Trying to understand them simply indulges and legitimises their delusions.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
1 year ago
Reply to  J J

Well that simply doubles down on the illustration, thanks.

However, here’s a reason why you should be concerned (it’s based on Simpson’s paradox).

Suppose that there are 100 communities of 1000 people, each of which has a crime rate of 10 crimes/1000 persons/year. So there are a total of 1000 crimes a year. In 90 of these communities the crime rate increases to 11/year and in the remaining 10 it drops to zero. The overall crime rate has fallen to 990 year. a 1% drop. But 90% of the population have experienced a rise in the crime rate in their area. Hence the perception and the actual risk of being a victim of crime has risen for most people.

So is it reasonable to say that since crime overall has fallen, the 90% “hold a perception that contradicts those facts”? Obviously not. The question is, what has actually happened: saying that trying to find this out this “indulges and legitimises their delusions” is unscientific.

J J
J J
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Good try, but the data shows crime has fallen in every region of the UK.
So your analogy is mute.

You may find it more illuminating to ask yourself why you are so committed to a belief that crime is rising, when the facts clearly state that is not true. Why do you, and others, so desperately need to believe things are getting worse when they are not?

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
1 year ago
Reply to  J J

You don’t seem to quite understand my position. I can see for myself what the crime figures are. I’m not trying to prove that they aren’t what they are. I’m illustrating why the single overall figure does not tell you everything you need to know to understand why people think what they do about crime. The question is why people believe that crime is getting worse. Either they are simply unable to comprehend what the figures are, or their belief comes from something different. It seem to me very unlikely that people base their beliefs on reading ONS figures wrongly, and much more likely that they are saying something about their lived experience. They are telling you that they feel unsafe, somehow, or that crime is an increasing problem, somehow. What they are not telling you is something about their view of national crime statistics — and that discrepancy, and that “shaming” is what this article is about.

Incidentally, here’s another example of Simpson’s paradox for you to mull over. In 2000, 1 million people live in Niceville, where the crime rate is 1%, ie one person in a hundred becomes a victim of crime each year., and 3 million people live in Nastyburg where the crime rate is 10%. A generation later, as a result of social changes and age distribution, 2 million people live in Niceville, where the crime rate has gone up to 2%, and only 2 million people live in Nastyburg, where the crime rate has gone up to 11%. So in 20 years the total number of crimes per year has fallen from 310,000 to 260,000. But the crime rate in each city has risen. So every single citizen has the view that their home city has got less safe. Are they justified in their belief, or is it a delusion?

And another. Three million people live in Greater Metropolis, one million in the inner city, where the crime rate is 9%, one million in the suburbs, where the crime rate is 6%, and one million in the surrounding countryside, where the crime rate is 3%. There are two police forces, one for the inner city and one for the suburbs and countryside. One has to deal with a crime rate of 9% and the other with a crime rate of 4.5%. Next year, the crime rate in each of the three zones has risen by 1%, to 4,7 and 10% respectively, and the police force has been reorganised so that the suburbs are now with the inner city. The two forces have crime rates of 8.5% and 4% to deal with. So crime rates have gone down as a “result” of the reorganisation. But total crime has gone up. Which if the two statements is correct?

I’m not suggesting that any of the three scenarios I’ve described applies to the UK at all — I simply don’t know. I’m using them to illustrate that simply saying “overall crime has fallen” does not convey the whole picture — and indeed, you found it necessary to adduce extra information, namely that “crime has fallen in every region” to expand your overly simple initial statement.

In summary: there are two issues in play here. One is that peoples’ response to crime is more about their local lived experience than about a single global statistic; and that a simple single statistic can convey exactly the wrong information about the local experiences.

J J
J J
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

You are over complicating the problem. Some people have a perception that crime is worse than it actually is. The solution to that problem is to confront them with the facts. The solution is not to indulge and participate in their mistaken belief.

Your ‘lived experience’ does not change the facts. If you suffer from a crime, it does not mean everyone is suffering from a crime. And neither would it be sensible to develop national policy on the basis of your own individual, subjective experience. We should not abandon objective evidence for a post modernist notion where there is no objective truth and the only thing that matters is your ‘lived experience’. It is not.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
1 year ago
Reply to  J J

Some people have a perception that crime is worse than it actually is.

That’s as much because you’re overloading the word “crime” as because people have what you regarded as a delusional perception. I illustrated with an example where the risk of being a victim of crime has objectively risen for everyone in the population. But that risk is not correctly captured by your favourite measure. That suggests that your measure is failing to capture the full meaning of the word “crime”.

Ultimately, public policy should try to take into account the totality of the lived experience of the population. That’s an enormously complicated task. It doesn’t help to propose a single overly simplistic measure and then accuse everyone who disagrees with its use of being delusional.

J J
J J
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

You are desperately trying to justify a postmodern approach; that there is no objective truth, only individual subjective experience. You are wrong. There is objective truth is crime has fallen. The data is very clear. Your example is erroneous, as crime has fallen in every region over time. It doesn’t matter how many times you repeat the example, it’s still erroneous.

The National Crime Survey, is not my ‘favourite metric’. It’s one of the worlds largest and most comprehensive surveys of crime, reported and unreported.

We have enough real problems to deal with, rather than trying to deal with fantasy problems.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
1 year ago
Reply to  J J

You are desperately trying to justify a postmodern approach; that there is no objective truth, only individual subjective experience.

What a very odd thing to say to a mathematician; and as false as it is odd, in my case. It seems that either you’re determined not to understand the point I’m trying to make or I’m explaining it very badly. Modesty forbids me to say which of the two I think it is.

J J
J J
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

You’ve responded to non of my points, simply made ad hominem attacks using various levels of subtlety. Now you are committing an ‘argument from authority’ fallacy (I am a mathematician therefore I my argument is correct)

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
1 year ago
Reply to  J J

Now you are committing an ‘argument from authority’ fallacy (I am a mathematician therefore I my argument is correct)

Nonsense. I’m pointing out that as a mathematician I’m one of the least likely people to fall into post-modernism.

You’ve responded to non of my points, simply made ad hominem attacks using various levels of subtlety

Well, that’s so obviously not true. that I’m not sure that there’s any point in continuing. I’ve made various attempts to explain a variety of points, such as Simpson’s Paradox, you’ve not engaged with any of them. What a shame: until today I thought there was some possibility of a fruitful dialogue.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
1 year ago
Reply to  J J

If inequality has stayed the same for the past 30 years, it’s about time it was addressed!

‘The myth of the Undeserving Poor’ by Martin Charlesworth and Natalie Williams addresses this well.

J J
J J
1 year ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

You won’t ‘address inequality’ until you address fundamentally differing levels of capability, competency, effort and productivity. In other words you will never address inequality, as we are all inherently unequal.

Inequality drives economic progress. You can’t have one without the other.

The left wing critique of the dichotomy of the ‘deserving and undeserving poor’ is very old and largely discredited. For a start we no longer have poverty in any traditional sense. Everyone has access to a free allowance, enough to have a place to live, food, water, free healthcare, education, all mod cons, a smart phone, internet and lots of leisure time.

The fact is some people are poor because they prefer not to work. The marginal benefits of working in Mcdonalds for 350 pounds a week is not worth it because the State will give you 200 pounds a week for doing nothing (so the marginal benefit is 100 pounds for a 40 hour week).

Ethically and morally we need to provide welfare. But welfare also undermines the incentive to work. It’s a difficult problem to solve. But you don’t solve it by ignoring the problem exists.

In the words of Jordan Peterson: “The problem with the Left is they do not take inequality seriously enough”

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
1 year ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

Antony Flew gave an interesting critique of this issue somewhere, but I can’t immediately find it, so will have to recreate the gist of it. One part of it is the difference between inequality and mobility, and the extent to which that is simply a function of age.

Let’s consider the state of Egalitaria, where people are children for 20 years, work for 40 years and are retired for 20 years, and then all die on their 80th birthday: the birthrate is exactly 2.0 children per couple, so the population is constant. Everyone has exactly the same life trajectory, with the same job and income.

People in work all earn £40,000 a year. They spend £20,000 a year on their children for 20 years and save £20,000 a year for the next 20 years: they spend £20,000 on themselves. When they retire, they have a capital of £400,000 which they spend on living for the next 20 years at the rate of £20,000 a year.

How unequal a society is this? From one point of view, very. A quarter of the population own nothing and earn nothing: those are the children, of course. Another quarter, those from 20-40, also own nothing. The asset-owning half are those from 40-80, owning an average of £10,000 per person. But people between 56 and 64 own an average of £360,000: this 10% of the population own 72 times the national average. An enormous disproportion.

On the other hand, Egalitaria is perfectly fair. Every citizen goes through exactly the same life as every other, and there is no difference at all. Every citizen has the benefit of £20,000 spent on them every year of their life.

So the question: are the inequalties in Egalitaria real, and if so, what should be done about them?

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago

When journos and politicians start citing statistics, a barrel of salt is in order. There are few things more open to manipulation and misunderstanding that statistics, especially when conveyed to people who struggle with basic math.

Gerry Fruin
Gerry Fruin
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

I was told “Statistics are figures used in arguments by idiots”. Phsssst… except when they agree with your point! 🙂

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago
Reply to  Gerry Fruin

Here is a case in point: 40% of the Covid deaths in one Colorado county actually stemmed from gunshot wounds involving people who were virus positive. 40% is eye-catching. The raw numbers are two deaths in five. Technically, the 40% figure is true but it leaves something to be desired.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

There’s a joke here about the Covid of the County losing his life in a shoot-out, or something like that.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

If he was called “Sue” the BBC would have told us all about it.

David Stanley
David Stanley
1 year ago

I think when looking at benefit fraud it’s useful to think of it like tax evasion vs tax avoidance. Some people do illegally claim benefits that they’re not entitled to and this is fairly rare. What is far more common (or at least it used to be before the Conservatives tightened up the system) is people claiming money that they are legally entitled to but the majority of the public think they shouldn’t be.

I’ve worked with benefits claimants for many years and there were always ways of filling in forms that would ensure people got stacks of cash that they clearly didn’t need or deserve. This wasn’t illegal but the majority of the public felt that they shouldn’t have been allowed to get away with it.

Another issue is working tax credits. There are people who can only work part time due to legitimate health conditions or caring responsibilities. These people can top up their wages through working tax credits and the majority of the public are fine with this this. However, there are also those who just choose to work part time for no good reason other than laziness and then exploit the working tax credits system. This was not counted as fraud as they could claim they were only able to find a part time job and no one was checking up on them. However, the majority of the public believe that this is wrong and should be clamped down on.

I think issues like this account for the disparity between official statistics on benefit fraud and the general perception of the public. Many of us knew this was going on but no one on the left wanted to listen. They just kept throwing statistics at us and smirking at us for our supposed ignorance.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago

One factor omitted is that the MSM don’t tend to routinely publicise stats on immigration numbers, cheating cases, crimes by ethnicity etc.

e.g. a BBC News item would contain a story saying BAME people are ‘disproportionately” targeted by Stop and Search, compared to white people.

Rather than following their own “woke” agendas, they could provide the underlying stats that clearly demonstrate the proportions of weapons actually used by – or retrieved from – different ethnic groups.

Their disingenuous coverage of many issues, doesn’t educate or inform the average person – leaving them little choice but to guess.

It is the government/MSMs fault that so much information is effectively withheld from the public domain.

Warren Alexander
Warren Alexander
1 year ago

I think it was Benjamin Disraeli who said that there are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies and statistics.

Joe Francis
Joe Francis
1 year ago

It was attributed to him by Mark Twain, but there is actually no record anywhere in Disraeli’s writings or speeches of him having said it. It seems to be one of those maxims that have popped up out of the ether.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago

Pigs will fly before people realise that calling others stupid isn’t a good strategy for an election or to get them to do what you want.

J J
J J
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

You haven’t got a fuc*king clue what you are talking about. You just believe anything the government tells you.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago
Reply to  J J

Many thanks for this highly uncivilised and uninformed contribution to the discussion. I wrote one sentence – you cannot know what exactly I mean by that or how informed I am, where I am or why I think what I do. I could set out at least 3 points to underline my opinion. However, you are being so unnecessarily aggressive that I won’t. Exchanges of opinion only work where both people are prepared to be civilised. Juding by the tone of your post, I can see that this criterion is not fulfilled.

J J
J J
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I thought it would be funny to call someone stupid who was arguing it’s not a good idea to call people stupid. I plead guilty to having an exceptionally dry sense of humour. No offense intended.

Paul Goodman
Paul Goodman
1 year ago
Reply to  J J

How rude. Also why do you assume that people are believing what the Government says rather than what the opposition or Union leaders or Whiley, Trump, Arnie, BLM Antifa, or whomsoever.

KE’s point is well made. Calling people stupid seems a particularly ineffective method of persuasion.

J J
J J
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Goodman

As above. I thought it would be funny to call someone stupid who was arguing it’s not a good idea to call people stupid. I plead guilty to having an exceptionally dry sense of humour. No offense intended.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Goodman

He, obviously, was being ironic.

Nick Whitehouse
Nick Whitehouse
1 year ago

You have written above
“It’s all very well to reject the Victorian narrative about the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor. But an inverted-Victorianism ” in which personal responsibility goes unrecognised and unrewarded ” is also distorted”

This seems like having your cake and eating it.

If personal responsibility goes unrecognised and unrewarded is a distortion; does this mean that to stop the distortion, the rewards should be different to those people who exercise personal responsibility, from those who do not?

Which takes us back to the Victorian idea of the deserving and undeserving poor!
Or you could say that those who take personal responsibility should be discriminated against.
I think that the latter idea probably answers the questions of the publics response to the survey.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago

The concept of ‘Deserving and undeserving’ poor is the most important, and valid, social measure there is! That this vital value has been eradicated is utterly insane! Society is sick if it cannot use the values of who deserves others to pay their way, and and those who have no right to have their way paid for them, by taking from hard working! The undeserving who get money I think of on the same level as thieves, albeit legal thieves.

David Uzzaman
David Uzzaman
1 year ago

Quite a big proportion of the population have poor numerical skills. If you are incapable of doing mental arithmetic and have no concept of relative sizes, statistics won’t mean anything. Politicians regularly quote statistics in a thoroughly dishonest way. Telling us how many people die each day of Covid without any reference to normal daily deaths at this time of year is an example. Even the choice of graphics is problematic. The scale and period chosen can make a huge difference. More information in more neutral presentation would be very helpful in educating us all. The Office of National Statistics produces some great data but it’s not always easy to find what you are looking for.

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
1 year ago

A bit OT re. the main point of the article, but: who (esp. a child) would want to eat a whole tomato or whole pepper with lunch? It sounds like these vegetables are apportioned out in what are considered reasonable-sized “servings” for a single meal. Probably a lot of them still don’t get eaten; it would horrify many people to learn how much food is thrown away in public schools every day. Striving to avoid food waste is not “miserly”; it’s sensible.

Andrew Eccles
Andrew Eccles
1 year ago

Good point; how would the public be expected to know? If the public took its cue from George Osborne’s budget statement of 2010 where there was an egregious misrepresentation (I’ll let you guess which way…) of benefit fraud levels we might begin to understand more. The figure he quoted included administartive errors, genuine misunderstandings, and overpayments – all taken from his own department’s data and none of which constituted fraud. But it quintupled the figure (see the dismay about this politicking voiced by UK churches at the time). That then set the narrative for the tabloids to have a field day (the Daily Mail ran with a subsequent story on how welfare spending was ‘£1000 per person higher than the European average’ but included all the former East European states and Turkey to arrive at that figure. By any reasonable comparative measure the UK was bottom of the pile). So if the public is lied to – let’s just call it what it is – then the public might just have its views shaped. Post Brexit fishing rights, anyone?

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Eccles

egregious misrepresentation (I’ll let you guess which way…) of benefit fraud levels

Really? The March 2010 Budget statement consistently uses the phrase “fraud and error”. Indeed, it’s very similar to the wording in the 2009 pre-Budget report … . Perhaps you could quote the exact wording you find so egregious?

Andrew Eccles
Andrew Eccles
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Really.

Here it is, from Osborne’s speech to the HOC:

”Nor will fraud in the welfare system be tolerated anymore. We estimate that £5 billion is being lost this way each year. £5 billion that others have to work long hours to pay in their taxes”.

This was the part picked up – uncritically, unchecked – by the tabloids. That’s the point I’m making; it is egregious politicking. I have the tabloid comments on file if you want to them quoted too. On your other remarks about the study – agreed, not least that the actual answer was not available as an option in the survey.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Eccles

Here’s the whole paragraph in Hansard:

I have instructed the Revenue to work with the banking sector to ensure that the remaining banks have implemented the code of practice by the end of next month. We will also address the situation under the last Government where the gap between the taxes owed and the taxes paid grew considerably. So in this spending review, while the HMRC budget will be expected to find resource savings of 15% through the better use of new technology, greater efficiency and better IT contracts, we will be spending £900 million more on targeting tax evasion and fraud. This additional £900 million is expected to help us collect a missing £7 billion in tax revenues. Nor will fraud in the welfare system be tolerated any more. We estimate that £5 billion a year is being lost in this way”£5 billion that others have to work long hours to pay in their taxes. This week we published our plans to step up the fight to catch benefit cheats and deploy uncompromising penalties when they are caught.

It’s clear that Osborne was referring to a total loss from fraud and tax evasion of £5B, including but not confined to welfare fraud. This is consistent with Duncan Smith’s statement two days earlier

Total fraud”benefits and tax credits, involving my Department and the Treasury”stands at £5.2 billion. Total welfare fraud stands at £1.5 billion, involving £1 billion in benefits and about £500 million on tax credits.

Andrew Eccles
Andrew Eccles
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

A fine, clinical, mathematician’s reckoning. Here’s a politcal science take on it: the tabloids were well primed in advance on the bit I quoted above. Trust me – I have the copies – they did not quote the Hansard version; they repeated the calculated error. It’s straightforward political spin and it’s part of the problem we have in UK politics at the moment.

Andrea X
Andrea X
1 year ago

Very good, thanks 😉

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Utterly Liberal/Lefty, all must have prizes, twaddle. The public need to be stat shamed. People failing to do what is needed for themselves, family, nation, need to have their failures pointed out. The problem is I doubt many can see the reality of who, and how, people are failing to do what they should be doing.

I wish I owned a great Newspaper, I would shame those deserving shame, and praise those deserving praise – (although the agenda my paper would take would likely be 180 degrees off the MSM.)

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
1 year ago
Reply to  7882 fremic

Your newspaper’s reporting would be based on your opinion of who deserved what; it would be no more factual than the other newspapers interpreting facts according to the owners’ opinions!