A survey by the Royal Statistical Society [on July 9] revealed the vast disparity between what the British public believes to be the state of the nation, and the actual reality reflected by sober official statistics.

It may not be surprising that people are sometimes rather skewiff in their assessments of some issues, but the gulf between perceptions and reality are quite staggeringly wide. The implications for politics and governance are profound.

To pick out just some of the survey findings, on average we think teenage pregnancy rates are 25 times higher than they are. A large majority of the public believe crime is constant or rising, when official surveys show there were 53 per cent fewer incidents in 2012 than in 1995. People overestimate the amount of benefit fraud 34 times over, believing the rate to be 24 per cent of the total benefits bill. The true figure is 0.7 per cent. When people were asked to select from a list which government policy would save most money, a third selected capping benefits at £26k, more than twice as many as selected raising the pension age to 66 for both men and women. The actual savings from a benefit cap would be £290m. Savings from raising the pension age would be £5bn, or about 20 times greater.

More than a quarter of people believe foreign aid is one of the top two or three items of government spending – indeed more people pick this as the top item of government expenditure than pick pensions or education, despite those being 74 times and 51 times larger respectively. The average member of the public believes 24 per cent of the British population is Muslim. It is actually five per cent. Average estimates of the total immigrant population are two to three times higher than reality.