Friday, 11 February 2011

Tabloid propaganda and the government's war on the disabled

The Daily Mail isn't known for clarity, honesty, or objectivity. To the point where I have praise the patience of media watch blogs which dissect its bollocks on a nearly daily basis. However, given the current attacks on the disabled, I thought one particular round of bullshit deserved attention.

Nearly 2 MILLION on sickness benefits for years are fit to work
The implication is clear, no? All those bloody scroungers, stealing our tax money, leeching off the state, etc, etc. It's about time the government cut off the cash flow to these worthless parasites.

Except for the fact that, as ever, the story doesn't quite match up to the headlines.

Firstly, the implication that we're talking about cheats or swindlers is nonsense. The main body of Mail's own piece adds the following caveat; "the first reassessments of those on long-term incapacity benefit found that more than two-thirds of those checked could return to work if they received help."

That is, they could live a normal life and earn a living despite their disability if they had the right equipment to do so. Examples of such help might be the high rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance, or the Independent Living Fund, both of which are facing the axe under government austerity measures. When disabled people already face poverty and social isolation, whilst families with disabled dependants are suffering extreme hardship.

Not exactly a situation you'd want to cheat yourself into, is it? But rather than point out that these people could be independent and make a living for themselves with the right support, the Mail chooses to slur them all by implying that they are scroungers and cheats.

And it's not just these peoples' situation that is misreported. It's their numbers too. Two million people across the country are cheats? Not quite [emphasis mine];
Trial re-tests of claimants in Burnley and Aberdeen found 68.6 per cent did not have a valid claim and were unable to prove they were too ill to take a job.

Some 2.6million people are on incapacity benefit or its replacement, employment and support allowance. Most long-term recipients will be reassessed over the next few years.

If the total proportion of invalid claims matches the results from the two trial reassessments, it would mean almost 1.8million people were receiving benefits despite being able to work.
So, in reality, 68.6% of people in just two cities were judged able to work. And, breaking that down further, only "399 people (29.6 per cent) were found to be entirely fit for work," whilst "526 (39 per cent) will be given help and support so they can begin working again." Taking the Mail's tack of applying this across the whole country, this would in fact mean that 769,600 people (not two million) were fit to work. 1,014,000 need more support in order to live independent lives.

Moreover, the 769,600 who are fit to work are not scroungers either.

Last January, a BBC investigation cited two former Atos doctors who "expressed concerns that the checks are being done too quickly and that the system is biased towards declaring people fit for work." And they also revealed from a freedom of information request that "there are 8,000 ESA appeals heard every month. This is double the number of the next most appealed benefit, disability living allowance, which has seven times more claimants than ESA." Lizzie Iron, head of welfare policy at the Citizens Advice Bureau, pointed out that, from this figure, 40 per cent of people who failed the assessment and then appealed won.

Both the TUC and the former President of Appeal Tribunals have also criticised the decision making process from Atos. Because, in short, they are integral to the government's policy of "attacking the poor in a crude attempt to save money and curb public spending."

What the Mail is shamelessly touting as proof that everyone who claims benefits is a work-shy huckster is nothing of the sort. It is the latest round of the government's vicious attack on the most vulnerable. Those who stand opposed to this blatant victimisation need not only to challenge the government, but also the media, more than happy to do their propaganda work for them.