Mr. Justice Sweeney dismissed an entire jury from a high profile case involving a now ex-polititian and his ex wife when it became apparent that she had accepted some speeding points for which her husband was responsible. The details of the case aside, the jury in question was dismissed after asking some questions that revealed a terrifying lack of knowledge about the legal system. The jury in question asked if it would be acceptable to discuss evidence for which there was no factual basis and had not been presented thus far in the case. Further to this, they proceeded to ask the judge for a definition of the phrase 'beyond a reasonable doubt'.
What has been evident more recently is a lack of understanding of the welfare system, in particular, benefits in the public eye.
By the way, in case you're wondering if I'm about to equate public perceptions of welfare and benefit fraud with the dismissed jury, yes, I am.
Is a jury asking to discuss non-factual evidence really so much worse than some of the misinterpretations and misrepresentations of the statistics about benefits?
I say this because a series of depressing statistics appeared in a recent T.U.C. report detailing a number of public assumptions about the benefit system and fraud, backed up by the statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions. It appeared that on average, people thought that fraud claimed about 27% of the welfare budget. The actual figure is less than 1%: 0.7% to be precise.
Add to this the following misconceptions:
- On average people think that 41 per cent of the entire welfare budget goes on benefits to unemployed people, while the true figure is 3 per cent.
- On average people think that almost half the people (48 per cent) who claim Jobseeker's Allowance go on to claim it for more than a year, while the true figure is just under 30 per cent (27.8 per cent).
- On average people think that an unemployed couple with two school-age children would get £147 in Jobseeker's Allowance - more than 30 per cent higher than the £111.45 they would actually receive - a £35 over-calculation.
- Only 21 per cent of people think that this family with two school-age children would be better off if one of the unemployed parents got a 30 hour a week minimum wage job, even though they would actually end up £138 a week better off. Even those who thought they would be better off only thought on average they would gain by £59.
This, frankly, is anyone's guess at this stage.
0.7% of budget on fraudulent claims (which works out as about £1.2bn) is, of course, a fairly large figure that needs to be dealt with. However, compare that to the DWP's own statistics stating they have been losing £2.3bn each year- not misspent- LOST through admin error. How does this even happen? Did someone turn their handbag upside down shouting "Oh shit, I left an enormous pile of money in here somewhere, but I just can't seem to remember where!"?
So, yes, public, you are just like that jury because the figures that are put forward showing just how awry the public perception has got is beyond a reasonable doubt and I doubt you need that phrase defining to see that.
Mr. Justice Sweeney claimed there was a 'deficit of understanding' in the jury of that trial. The problem is, when it comes to matters such as this, there is a deficit of understanding across the entire country. And if it is so easy to dismiss a jury for simply not having the proper grasp of facts and information, how long is it until public opinion is dismissed because the facts surrounding basic matters such as welfare, taxes and the disappearing respectability of the working and middle classes because there isn't a grasp on the basic facts here either?