I am not in receipt of any benefits, apart from roads of varying quality and occasional firework displays. And policing, I suppose. And a fire service, should I need it. And museums, parks and art galleries. And free healthcare. And the advantages that have flowed from a free education to tertiary level. And some other bits and bobs. But that’s it.
So, by rights, I should be livid that asylum seekers are given a free house on arrival, that prisons are like holiday camps and that unemployed single mothers are paid more than the prime minister. Except I know that these things are not true.
I don’t wish to suggest that people are stupid, merely ignorant. As a rule, only people who are in receipt of benefits, or who administer them, know how much they are. No one who’s never been inside a prison has any grasp of the realities of incarceration. Only a refugee knows what it’s like to be one.
But most people are not cold-blooded and are quite shocked when they learn how low benefits actually are. If they were to spend one night in a cell, they would cry throughout it. When asked what sentences they think are appropriate for various offenders, they show themselves to be more liberal than judges. And if they were to meet an asylum seeker and hear their story, they would probably want to open their own wallets to help them out.
There are three types of ‘you couldn’t make it up’ stories: the ones that are about very rare instances, the ones that are misrepresented, and the ones that are made up. The duty of politicians of conscience is to say so. To listen, yes, for a bit. Then to say, ‘I hear your concerns, but they’re bollocks.’ That’s just common sense.
Jeremy Hardy is a comedian and writer who regularly appears on BBC Radio 4's The News Quiz and I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue.