Undoing media myths

Here is a collection of statistics for refuting common media fallacies – eg: that unemployment costs more than the military; that jobs cure poverty, etc.

On this page:
Military spending >
Welfare >
Corporate welfare >
Tax avoidance/fraud >
Long working hours >
Death by work >
Work is no cure for poverty >
Causes of death >
Falling disease threat >
Low crime threat >
Low terrorism threat >

Military spending

Britain is a long way behind America in military spending, but still one of the five biggest military spenders:

Annual military budget (US$ billions)
• USA: 399
• Russia: 65
• China: 47
• Japan: 42
• UK: 38
• France: 29

The development cost for just one fighter jet (the US F-22) was $63 billion, more than enough to eliminate global starvation, according to WGI figures quoted by Unesco.

(Source: Center for Defense Information, 2003).

Welfare

The annual cost of welfare in Britain is about £100 billion. The tabloid media blame this high cost on the "workshy", but most of it goes on pensions:

Annual cost (£ billions)
• Job Seekers Allowance: 2.3
• Housing benefit: 4.1
• Income Support: 6.5
• Child benefit: 8.8
• Benefits for disabled: 10.8
• Contribution-based pensions: 42.1

(Smaller costs include winter fuel payments for the elderly, at £1.7bn, etc. Source: Department for Work and Pensions, 2003)

Corporate welfare

America spends $175 billion per year on corporate welfare. Much of it takes the form of tax breaks:

Corporate tax welfare 1996-2000
(US$ billions)

• Microsoft: 12
• General Electric: 12
• Ford: 9.1
• Worldcom: 5.3
• IBM: 4.7
• General Motors: 3.6
• Enron: 1

(British businesses also receive billions in welfare handouts – from the Department for Trade and Industry. The DTI is basically a corporate dole office. Source for tax welfare figures: Citizens for Tax Justice)

Tax avoidance & fraud

When it comes to swindling, "dole cheats" aren't the biggest drain on the UK economy:

Estimated annual cost (£ billions):
• Corporate tax avoidance: 85
• Business fraud: 14
• Government fraud in Whitehall: 5
• Tobacco smuggling: 3.5
• VAT fraud on mobile phones: 2.5
• Total welfare fraud: 2
• Jobseekers Allowance fraud: 0.19
• Bulldozer smuggling: 0.15

(Sources, respectively: Guardian, 12/4/02; BBC Radio 4, 'Today', 23/8/01; BBC Radio 4 News, 1996; Guardian 17/12/99; BBC Radio 4, 'Today', 3/7/03; DWP, 2003; The Informal Economy, by Lord Grabiner, March 2000; Guardian, 25/8/01)

Long Working hours

• Working hours have risen in the last 20 years, on average, for UK full-time workers. This reverses a 150-year trend of declining working hours.

• UK government research shows 1 in 6 people working more than 60 hours per week.

• Each year workers are giving £23 billion in free labour to their bosses, due to unpaid overtime.

(Sources: UK Labour Force Survey, 1999; Guardian, 30 Aug 2002; Press Association, Feb 26 2004)

Death by Work

• People with stressful jobs are twice as likely to die from heart disease, according to a 2002 study in the British Medical Journal.

• Long-term job strain is worse for your heart than gaining 40lbs in weight or ageing 30 years, according to a 2003 US study.

• Going into work when you feel ill (taking no sick leave) doubles the risk of heart disease for 35%-40% of the population.

• Work kills more than war. Approximately two million workers die annually due to occupational injuries and illnesses, according to a United Nations report. This is more than double the figure for deaths from warfare (650,000 deaths per year). Work kills more people than alcohol and drugs together.

(Sources: British Medical Journal, 19 Oct 2002; American Journal of Epidemiology, 2003; BBC2, The Money Programme, 1 Dec 2004; UN ILO SafeWork programme, April 2002)

Work is no cure for poverty

• The number of people in work is at "record levels" according to the UK government. Meanwhile, official UK figures show 22% of people living in poverty, compared to 13% in 1979.

• 47% of employees have wages that, on their own, are insufficient to avoid poverty. 42% of employees rely on means other than their own wages to avoid poverty.

• In the 1970s and 1980s, around 4% of low-paid employees lived in poverty. Currently, 14% of low-paid employees live in poverty. (5% of all employees now live in poverty).

• Since the early 1970s GDP (national income) has doubled, but in real terms (ie allowing for inflation) the bottom 10% of jobs pay less now than in 1970. The minimum wage would have to be around £6.50 per hour to bring low-pay up to the 1970 level.

(Sources: Government DWP press release, Nov 2004; poverty.org.uk; Joseph Rowntree Foundation study, Nov 2004; Guardian, 14 Jun 2002)

Causes of death

Following figures for England & Wales, 2002 - from the Office for National Statistics.

Total deaths (all causes): 535,356

• Deaths from heart disease/stroke: 209,948
• Deaths from cancer: 140,453
• Deaths from pneumonia: 32,769
• Deaths from HIV disease: 197

Total deaths by accident: 10,714
• Deaths by transport related accident: 6,459
• Deaths by accidental falls: 2,511
• Deaths by accidental poisoning: 1,648

Total deaths by suicide/intentional self-harm: 3,319

Total deaths by assault: 385
• Deaths by "rifle, shotgun or large firearm": 7
• Deaths by "other/unspecified firearm": 24
• Deaths by "sharp object": 118
• Deaths by "hanging, strangulation and suffocation": 34

Falling disease threat

• A century ago there were 20 times as many deaths from sexually transmitted diseases.
• In the middle ages there were 130 times as many deaths from infectious diseases.

(Source: Equinox, Channel 4, 13 April 1999)

Low crime threat

• The risk of becoming a victim of crime is at an historic low, according to the authoritative British Crime Survey.

• The murder rate in Britain today is roughly the same as in the mid-19th century.

• For every one person murdered today, ten were murdered in the middle ages.

• One in three elderly women feels "very unsafe", but fewer than one in 4,000 will be assaulted.

• The number of children murdered by strangers (in Britain) averages below 10 a year.

• The chances of a child aged 1-4 being killed by a stranger are less than one in a million, and have fallen by a third since 1988.

(Sources: homeoffice.gov.uk; Independent, 25 Sept 1996; Equinox, Channel 4, 13 April 1999; Times, 11 Sept 1996; Guardian, 2 Aug 1999)

Low terrorism threat

US State Department figures show that terrorism is at its lowest level in 35 years. Don't take our word for it:

US State Department terrorism graphs >

(Their first graph shows the total number of international terrorist attacks to be at its lowest since 1982. The second graph shows number of attacks by region. For all regions except the Middle East, there were less terrorist attacks in 2003 than in 1999).



 
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