Remember these? Time and time again, the Daily Mail has published stories about disability benefit claimants who supposedly did not deserve their benefits because they were either fit for work, or because it was too easy to claim benefits.
Time and time again, the Work and Pensions Committee and/or the UK Statistics Authority which has investigated complaints about the media treatment of disability benefit claimants, have found DWP guilty of giving ‘direct quotations from Ministers [which] can give undue credence to inaccurate or misleading reports’ and they recommended that DWP ‘ensure that significant statistical releases are accompanied by a press release setting out the context and providing background explanatory notes’.
To which DWP responded that it ‘takes great care’ when publishing statistics to ensure that the information is used in an appropriate manner but it also stated that ‘The Committee and Government need to be mindful of the widespread public unease about the number of people claiming incapacity benefits and it is therefore unsurprising that this is reflected in the media. […] However, it is important to stress that it is not the Department’s role to dictate what can appear in stories in the media’. [Underlined by the author]
Not only have DWP or Iain Duncan Smith been found guilty of providing to some media selective information which were not supported by statistics or were not evidence based, but also that ‘the statistics do not comply fully with the principles of the Code of Practice… and that they were shared with the media in advance of their publication’.
Added to this, Iain Duncan Smith had ‘the belief’ that the benefit cap is driving benefit claimants into work, although no causal link has ever been established. The latest DWP press release on the benefit cap titled People are moving into work as a result of the benefit cap and the supporting document show that there is an increase in the percentage of capped claimants moving into work compared with the percentage of uncapped claimants, although the number is very small, but do not take into consideration the fact that potential capped claimants were also receiving additional support from Job Centres. Which means it is impossible to disaggregate the impact from the benefit cap from the impact of this additional support or to know whether the benefit cap has any impact at all.
In August 2014, the Daily Mail published the following article:
This gave rise to a very interesting Freedom of Information request (for which S.Banks deserves credit) which DWP took over 2 months to respond to:
After getting the clarification he was looking for on whether there was a DWP press release about the Worst excuses used by benefit fraudsters, he asked the question:
Dear DWP CAXTON HOUSE Communications,
Thank you. In regards to your last point; to answer my query specifically can you please confirm that the dwp initiated contact with the Mail in this particular instance?
To which DWP responded:
The answer to your query below is yes, DWP initiated contact with the Mail in this particular instance.
Communications FOI Focal Point
Remembering what was quoted above: ‘However, it is important to stress that it is not the Department’s role to dictate what can appear in stories in the media’, it seems that DWP knows that it can rely on the Daily Mail to publish stories which are derogatory to disability benefit claimants, paving the way for more cuts. The Daily Mail did not publish the latest statistics showing that 90% of reassessed Incapacity Benefit claimants were entitled to their benefits or any article to re-establish some kind of balance in its treatment of disability benefit claimants.
But ultimately, the responsibility lies with DWP, the largest employer in the Civil Service, which has forgotten its duty of impartiality and have been using selected media and especially the Daily Mail to demonise disabled people, to turn the general public against them and make cuts to disability benefits more acceptable, also leading to an increase in hate crimes against them. DWP employees should hang their heads in shame.