This article has been reblogged from Realfare; http://realmedia.press/2015/03/21/the-daily-mail-disability/ A website dedicated to Real reporting, not distorting. Follow on twitter: @RealMediaGB
To say that disabled people have been the target of most coalition government welfare cuts would be to state the obvious, but in order to comprehend how the British public came to accept these cuts, it is essential to understand the role of the Daily Mail, which has been instrumental in the vilification of disabled people and in the rise of disability hate crime.
The Daily Mail’s modus operandi has been very simple:
- Only focusing on disability benefit fraud, which accounts for a small fraction of the 0.7% of all benefits fraud
- Publishing DWP figures without question or checks
- Selective use of data or statistics
- Giving data or statistics out of context or without context
- Distorting the facts, using disparaging language
It is easy to understand how this works by dissecting this article: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1324035/75-incapacity-claimants-fit-work-Benefits-test-weeds-workshy.html which is based on the following 2010 DWP statistical release https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/203051/esa_wca_26102010.pdf
The title is very blunt: ‘75% of incapacity claimants are fit to work: Tough new benefits test weeds out the workshy’
The scene is set and we know immediately that the new test which has been devised, the infamous Work Capability Assessment, is very effective at ‘weeding out’ people who prefer a life on benefits to working.
This is developed in the first paragraphs, which present numerous figures and statistics to bring some credibility to the claims made by the Daily Mail: ‘Three-quarters of people who applied for new benefits for the long-term sick failed tests to prove they were too ill to work’. So far so good, although in the second sentence the Daily Mail starts to run into difficulty: ‘Out of about 840,000 who tried to obtain the £95-a-week Employment and Support Allowance, 640,000 were told they were fit for work, or withdrew their applications before they took the tests – suggesting they were ‘trying it on’.
Of these 640,000 people, some failed the test while others withdrew their applications, therefore they did not all undergo or fail the test (Lie No1). The Daily Mail does not tell us the split between the 2 groups although it is mentioned in the DWP document: 331,100 claimants closed their claims and 306,200 were found fit for work. Therefore when we look again at the percentage of people found fit for work following an assessment, it is no longer 75% but 60% (Lie No2). In case some brighter spark Daily Mail readers spotted this discrepancy, the Daily Mail suggests that the people who withdrew their claims were ‘trying it on’ (Lie No3). There is no evidence suggesting that withdrawn claims are due to people ‘trying it on’, and according to DWP https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/214543/rrep762.pdf ‘An important reason why ESA claims in this sample were withdrawn or closed before they were fully assessed was because the person recovered and either returned to work, or claimed a benefit more appropriate to their situation’, added to the fact that some claimants have to wait over one year to be assessed, and therefore had the time to recover. In fact the DWP document gives this information: ‘A large proportion of people claiming ESA cease their claim before assessment is complete (for example, if they have a short term health condition)’ so this information was available to the Daily Mail.
The third sentence is a paragon of manipulation, given that at the time DWP had not published any statistics related to these 2 specific medical conditions: ‘Incredibly, 7,100 tried to claim because they had sexually transmitted diseases and nearly 10,000 because they were too fat. Only 178,000 – one in four – were given the payment after convincing doctors they were actually unable to work’.
The 2 medical conditions as used by the Daily Mail article were not randomly chosen, as they both evoke for the right wing press self inflicted illnesses caused by lifestyle choice, making the claimants somehow less deserving. But the sin of the Daily Mail is even greater as these 2 conditions are a complete invention, as seen later in the article: ‘Nearly 10,000 people have applied for the ESA because they are too fat – a condition which is labelled ‘endocrine, nutritional and metabolic diseases’. This has to be one of the most astonishing fabrications ever made, alongside the Sun’s ‘Freddy Starr ate my hamster’.
Firstly, we are told that these 10,000 people who were ‘too fat’ have ‘tried’ to claim, implying that they did not succeed. In fact over 3,000 claimants were entitled to ESA, and 2,400 withdrew their claims. Secondly, ‘endocrine, nutritional and metabolic diseases’ encompasses a wide variety of conditions affecting the thyroid, pancreas, pituitary and adrenal glands etc[i]. which can sometimes, but not necessarily, be associated with obesity (Lie No4).
Likewise with the 7,100 claimants who ‘incredibly tried to claim because they had sexually transmitted diseases’. Only one medical condition in the document shown below is associated with 7,100 claimants: ‘Diseases of the Genitourinary System’, and it would take a huge leap of the imagination to describe them globally as sexually transmitted diseases, as they encompass viral or bacterial illnesses affecting the urinary system, the kidneys, the bladder and the ureter, calculus or cysts, renal failure etc.[ii] which are not, for the majority, sexually transmitted (Lie No5). (Click on the Table to see better).
And the Daily Mail continues its agenda of disinformation: ‘The disclosure by the Department for Work and Pensions raises fresh questions over how many of the 2.6million people on the existing incapacity benefit are really incapable of being employed.
The figures suggest that if they were tested to the same extent the number would fall as low as 650,000 ‘ (Lie No6). This refers to Incapacity Benefits claimants, who, as part of the Welfare Reform, had to be reassessed in order to determine their eligibility for ESA. The majority of these claimants have now been reassessed and the latest 2015 DWP figures show that 90% of them are entitled to ESA.
Finally to show how a lack of contextualisation coupled with selective use of statistics can distort the picture to the extent that disabled people are painted as fraudulently claiming benefits, we are told that ‘Since October 2008, just 51,000 people have been put on the new sickness benefit indefinitely’ and that ‘Only 178,000 – one in four – were given the payment after convincing doctors they were actually unable to work’ the implication being that very few people should in fact be entitled to disability benefits. The figure of ‘one in four’ is calculated from the total number of claims, including withdrawn claims from claimants who never underwent an assessment or tried to convince a doctor that they were unfit to work. (Lie No5)
Very conveniently, the Daily Mail overlooked the section of the document dealing with Appeals. Table 5 below shows that 209,200 claimants have appealed a Fit For Work decision but that only 69,000 appeals were heard. The total number of claimants found Fit For Work being 331,100, it means that 63% of them appealed the decision. The number of decisions in favour of claimants at appeals was 40% (it is closer to 50% currently), which means that of the 139,700 appeals remaining to be heard, 55,880 claimants would have a decision reversed in their favour. Therefore based on the 509,400 Work Capability Assessments undertaken, 234,100 claimants should be found entitled to ESA, and 275,220 claimants should be found to be Fit For Work, hence 55% of new ESA claimants are Fit For Work and not 75% as claimed by the Daily Mail. As a proper, professional and objective journalist would have found.
In fact, what the Daily Mail has done (and certainly assisted in this enterprise by DWP) is to conflate 2 different sets of claimants and to apply the Fit For Work figures found for new claimants to claimants already on Incapacity Benefits. The percentage of new claimants found Fit For Work following a WCA has always been around 50%, even before the introduction of the WCA, while claimants on Incapacity Benefits, some for several years, are the most severely disabled and 90% of them, as mentioned above, are entitled to ESA after being reassessed. To suggest, as the Daily Mail has, that 75% of these most severely disabled claimants could be fit for work and have been wrongly claiming benefits explains why some wheelchair users are now attacked in the streets, sometimes physically, as cheats and scroungers.
The Daily Mail has a direct line to the DWP and vice-versa, as shown by a Freedom of Information request[iii]. The newspaper has obligingly helped the DWP to demonise disabled people in order to make the benefit cuts acceptable to the British public, using lies, distortion, slurs, smears and all their arsenal of propaganda.
For more about media coverage of disabled people, see: https://dpac.uk.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/DPAC-Report-on-DWP-Abuse-of-Statistics-Final-22-June-2013.pdf?a8fae4
And also a very good report on the media treatement of disabled people: Bad news for disabled people. How the newspapers are reporting disability: http://www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_214917_en.pdf
And for more Daily Mail manipulation about disability claimants: https://dpac.uk.net/2013/05/the-daily-fail-workshy-map-with-the-not-fit-for-work-map/