Social Justice. Equality. Enterprise.

Disability Benefit Media Coverage: Debate & Official Complaints


Newspaper & Television Coverage of

 Disability Benefits, Thursday 21 April 2011

 Arouses Debate & Official Complaints


 The following articles and coverage aroused a lot of heated debate and official complaints on Thursday 21 April 2011 in response to government statements from Chris Grayling, Work and Pensions Minister and the Prime Minister, David Cameron about attempts to reform disability related benefits.


Please find the links to the original articles:


 From The Daily Mail:



From The Daily Express: 


From BBC News:



From The Broken Of Britian, Thursday 21 April 2011: -

 On Disability and The Daily Mail #TBofBTT

A guest post by Fi Douglas

I try not to read the Daily Mail. But sometimes, someone will link to it and my curiosity gets the better of me....

Yet again, the Mail (this time Daniel Martin) takes a cheap shot at disabled people. The article effectively implied that there are hundreds of thousands of people on disability benefits that shouldn't be....

The first statement that really got to me was this:

"Officials admitted 135,000 people have been off work for a decade with depression.”

How is that an ‘admission'? Have you ever been depressed? Ever met anyone with long-term depression? Do you actually know what ‘depression' even means? The ignorance in this statement astounds me. Depression can be as debilitating as any other illness. The implication that depression is a ‘minor ailment' is, quite frankly, insulting. Hooray for contributing to the stigma surrounding psychiatric illness!....

Next on the take-down list is people with diarrhoea (I don't profess to know much about this, but it only takes a hint of common sense to realise that this could severely affect occupational functioning) and those with severe stress, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders (see my comments about depression...stigma!).

.....this statement –

"More than 20,000 alcoholics and drug addicts have been drawing on the system for more than a decade” – is made seemingly without any regard for the issues of comorbidity between drug and alcohol problems and other mental illness including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and personality disorders.

I now revert to bullet point form:

  • "20 have been off work with a cough for ten years” – Cystic fibrosis? Chronic bronchitis? Emphysema? Lung cancer?
  • "53,450 are on sickness benefit because they have problems with ‘scholastic skills' – meaning they cannot read, write or add up” – Yup? As @bendygirl pointed out this morning, that's people with severe learning disabilities.
  • "Dizziness and Giddiness” – Yeah, that'd be vertigo. Nausea, vomiting, difficulty standing or walking. Oh and you can get blurred vision, hearing loss, have difficulty speaking, and reduced consciousness.
  • "Amazingly, there are … ten with blisters.” -Ever heard of epidermolysis bullosa?

It would be foolish to deny that there are people claiming disability benefit unfairly. I'm sure a small minority do. But to penalise other disabled individuals because of this is far more unfair....

Please see link to original article:

From The Broken Of Britian, Thursday 21 April 2011: -

New PCC Complaint against the Daily Mail

PCC complaint about today's Daily Mail article entitled "Scandal of 80,000 on sickness benefits for minor ailments... including diarrhoea"

The article begins by saying that "Thousands of people have been on incapacity benefit for more than a decade for minor ailments". The article goes on to say that "Officials admitted 135,000 people have been off work for a decade with depression, 1,360 because they have diarrhoea and 6,740 because they have severe stress."

On grounds of inaccuracy: The above statement is inaccurate, misleading and discriminatory. Firstly, the use of the word 'admission' implies guilt or responsibility on the part of the officials responsible rather than a release of statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions. Secondly, the article defines depression as a minor ailment. Depression exists as a wide spectrum, and many cases can be severely debilitating.

On grounds of misleading information: The article characterizes diahorrea as a minor ailment. The article also says that 'Amazingly, there are 30 people ... 80 with a ‘cough' and ten with blisters.' Chronic diahorrea could be caused by a variety of severe illnesses; coughs can be caused by cystic fibrosis, emphysema or lung cancer; epidermolysis bullosa is a skin condition causing severe blistering and damage to the body. The article also points out that ""53,450 are on sickness benefit because they have problems with ‘scholastic skills", thereby implying that learning disabilities are minor ailments. Many other severe problems, from ataxia to eating disorders, are implied to be minor ailments through dismissal of their symptoms.

On grounds of discrimination: Firstly, the article is accompanied by a picture of a woman inhaling a white powder through a roll of money. This makes particular reference to the "37,480 are listed under ‘drug abuse", without consideration of the fact that addiction is a mental illness, and the high incidence of drug abuse amongst those with other sever mental-health problems. Furthermore, it fails to recognise the fact that claimants are not paid to support drug abuse but to support recovery from addiction.

Secondly, the article discriminates against many disabled people by implying that symptoms of a variety of severe illnesses are 'minor ailments'. By dismissing symptoms of skin diseases, neurological disorders, learning disabilities and mental-health issues, the Daily Mail reinforces discrimination against these groups and others.

The complaint is made under clauses 1i) inaccuracy, 1ii) significant inaccuracy, 1iii) failing to distinguish between conjecture and fact, and 12i) discrimination on the grounds of disability of the Code.

Please see link to original article:



From Labour, Friday 22 April 2011

Has the tide turned in the 'benefit scroungers' debate?

By Sue Marsh

Something quite interesting happened yesterday.

As readers will know, the Mail, Express, government ministers, the BBC and even our Prime Minister launched yet another attack on sickness benefit "scroungers" yesterday.

Somehow though, it didn't quite go as the government planned.

As campaigners, our phones started ringing before breakfast, offering us a "Right to Reply" on numerous radio shows and blogs.

I wrote a piece about it for Left Foot Forward and despite it being the top article, no-one felt the need to defend the politicians or the media and their nasty attacks.

I went back and checked the comments on the Mail and Express articles, but almost every single one was in support of the sick and disabled, with many making points about where they would rather the government focussed their fire.

A little later, Mark Easton wrote a brilliant piece for the BBC (see below), asking where we draw the line if we start to differentiate between "self inflicted" conditions and "worthy" conditions.

  • Do we still take care of the horse-rider whose hobby "caused" their paraplegia?
  • Do we treat the lung cancer patient who lived with a smoker for 40 years?

David Cameron was roundly attacked for wading into this divisive debate.

Rather than being seen as "defenders of the taxpayer" the government managed to show themselves for the playground bullies they are.

Perhaps it will make them think twice the next time they choose to kick an easy target. Over 10 million people in the UK suffer from a long term illness or disability. They all have husbands or wives, children or parents, carers and friends. That's a lot of voters.

To assume that these changes can be forced through because "sick benefit scroungers" won't vote Conservative anyway might be a risk a little greater than the government had imagined.

Please see link to original article: 

Please see link to Sue Marsh's article in Left Foot Forward the previous day: 



From BBC News, Blogs, Thursday 21 April 2011

Moral Welfare

By Mark Easton, BBC Home Editor

Quiet morning? Banish boredom with some hand-wringing about alcoholics, drug addicts and obesity patients receiving incapacity benefits!

It is one of those hardy perennial stories to be wheeled out on a dull news day, a chronic "scandal" that media and ministers alike know will press the button marked "moral outrage".

But hold on. Today's version says 80,000 addicts receive welfare payments and yet in 2006 the story was that 100,000 were on incapacity benefits. In 2008 it was more than 100,000, last August it was nearly 90,000, by November it was more than 100,000 once more.

I haven't seen any stories saying that the latest figures represent a 20% fall in just five months. I wonder why.

I also wonder why this particular group of incapacity benefits claimants is picked out from the data. The suggestion seems to be that people suffering from diseases like alcoholism, drug dependency and obesity are morally culpable for their condition.

John Humphrys articulated just this point on the BBC Today programme this morning. When Don Shenker, Chief Executive of Alcohol Concern suggested alcoholics were often unable to work "through no fault of their own" he was interrupted. "No fault of their own?" he was asked.

One can understand why the question is asked but once society starts introducing the idea of "fault" into the issue of welfare, the debate enters dangerous territory.

Let us assume that the reason for all these stories about drug addicts, alcoholics and obesity sufferers receiving state support is that some people regard them as "undeserving": what about these people?

1. The smoker who knew the risks and developed lung cancer

2. The non-smoker who lived with a smoker, knew the risks and developed lung cancer

3. The horse-rider who knew the risks of the sport and suffered brain injury after a fall

4. The spinster who ignored her doctor's advice to lay off the sweet sherry and developed debilitating diabetes

5. The man whose refusal to follow health and safety advice resulted in a disabling industrial accident

6. The driver who crashed into a tree after three gin and tonics and was never able to work again

To be fair to the government, ministers have always couched the debate in terms of supporting and encouraging people back into work through treatment or other help. There is also a legitimate public discussion to be had about individual responsibility and whether the state should tailor welfare provision to encourage pro-social behaviour.

But let's be honest: this familiar debate is really about providing ammunition for those who insist it is possible to take a moral stance on welfare; that we can divide up potential recipients in terms of deserving and undeserving.

The trouble with this argument is that it would necessitate some kind of "morality officer" charged with deciding whether incapacity was the "fault" of the individual. Who would we recruit for this job? What questions would be asked?

The alcoholic whose condition has led them from well-functioning citizen to welfare-dependency - is it the role of government to investigate the case and apportion blame?

What if it emerged that the individual had suffered serious child abuse which had led to severe mental health problems which in turn had led to the bottle? Should the abuser face sanction rather than the abused? Should the retailer who sold the cheap cider knowing the customer had a drink problem? What about the drinks company promoting sales of high-strength low-cost booze? And do the institutions and politicians who failed to protect the abused child and supported the drinks industry shoulder any responsibility?

PS: My list of incapacity benefit addict stories was an illustration of how this tale gets re-told and re-packaged at regular intervals. The Sun story from November relates to figures obtained under a Freedom of Information request from the previous year and so my 20% fall point should be taken with the stroke-inducing pinch of salt with which it was intended to be consumed.
Incapacity benefits closed for new claimants last August.

Please see link to original article: 



A formal complaint was also sent to the BBC about their coverage of the debate.

Please see the article below from "Where's The Benefit”:



From False, Friday 22 April 2011

Meanwhile False Economy has written an article on Friday 22 April 2011 detailing forthcoming cuts to Disability Benefits and Services and criticising Ministerial Statements and Media Coverage on Thursday 21 April 2011: -

Like playground bullies, journalists and politicians gang up on the sick and disabled

Sick and disabled people are being particularly hard hit by this government, with one study estimating we will lose around a third of our incomes. Measures that affect us include:

  • Cuts to Employment Support Allowance (formerly Incapacity Benefit) and Disability Living Allowance
  • Social care packages being slashed
  • The housing benefit cap, which affects sick and disabled people disproportionately
  • All benefits to be "reassessed” – but that assessment has been found unfit for purpose by every major study
  • Vital hospices and special schools closing
  • Successful work programmes and independent living programmes cut or scrapped.......

......More to the point, how does this kind of attack help? How are people meant to be "assessed” fairly if complex medical conditions are reduced to a bunch of unworthy symptoms?

Attacks like these set sick person against disabled person, they set neighbour against neighbour. They make sick or disabled people feel they are being constantly judged – afraid to go out looking too "well” in case they are thought of as cheats.....

To see the remainder of the article please go to: - 



The Guardian, Thursday 21 April 2011

Meanwhile The Guardian released an article on Thursday 21 April 2011 outlaying a plan by Chris Grayling, Work & Pensions Minister to implement a "payment by results" scheme to treat addicts and subsequently get them fit to return to work in to work, which invited subsequent criticism: -

Chris Grayling pledges incapacity benefit 'revolution'
"Employment minister unveils payment by result scheme to treat addiction as figures show more than 80,000 claiming benefit for obesity, alcohol or drugs"

To view the full article please click the following link:



The Broken Of Britian, Friday 22 April 2011

Consequently The Broken Of Britian released an article condemning media coverage and questioning the motives of Chris Grayling, Work and Pensions Minister for releasing the information in the particular context he did without adequate analysis, which specifically quotes the above Guardian article: -

Questions about Chris Grayling?
"....Chris Grayling is the person who has direct authority to order DWP staff to compile figures on out-of-work benefits including Incapacity Benefit. He would have known that the data would be compiled in the form of a list of the reasons for incapacity, rather than the underlying cause. Chris Grayling is the man who appeared on BBC Radio 4's Today programme to hype his own figures, on the same day as the story appeared in the Mail and the Express....."

"....that debilitating obesity is most often caused by the side-effects of prescription medicine or health problems; that alcoholism and drug abuse lasting over 10 years likely signals some underlying mental-health problem or disorder....."

To view the full article please click the following link:

I am sure that this is not the end of the debate on disability reform and it will continue for some time

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