Nov 272011

The following is a letter of complaint to BBC led by Mad Pride and supported by the other signatories

We are writing to complain about a lack of balance in the BBC’s coverage and programming in relation to the government’s proposals for welfare reforms and benefits, and their implications.

Disabled people, unwaged carers, trade unions, low-paid workers and unemployed people have raised serious concerns about ‘mandatory work’ programmes that force people on benefits to work without pay. These pose a direct threat to the basic minimum wage, restrictions on working hours  and rules on unfair dismissal, and therefore to the pay and conditions of people in paid work. These implications have not even been mentioned, let alone been properly aired.

Instead we have a torrent of programmes aimed at stigmatising and demonising benefit claimants by highlighting benefit fraud, especially for incapacity benefit (“Britain on the Fiddle”, Panorama 3 November) and the ‘feckless’ who supposedly don’t want to work.  An impact of this wholly disproportionate misrepresentation of claimants as frauds and scroungers by some sections of the media has been cited as a direct cause of a reported increase in assaults and other abuse on disabled people, and to appearances parallel The Department of Work and Pensions own  propensity for distortion, itself criticised for the way it has released misleading figures and statistics that have been used to feed this biased propaganda.

Reality here is for the best part skewed by the BBC. Rates of fraud for disability benefits are the lowest – 0.3% to 1.9% — and are insignificant compared to the low amounts people are expected to live on, and the billions in underclaimed benefits.  People who can work should be entitled to a reasonable living wage and decent and safe working conditions.

Many disabled people are not able to work. Many fear they will be wrongly ruled ‘fit for work’ by the revised ‘work capability assessment’ that has been much criticised. And for the many made unemployed through no fault of their own by the effects of the economic downturn – or passed over to unemployment benefit via assessment! –  they now face being forced into ‘mandatory’ work with no pay.

Our very real and legitimate concerns are not being aired. We have not been given an opportunity to make ourselves heard and understood.

Is it right that the BBC is part of this propaganda? Should a publicly-funded body engage in what is tantamount to the promotion of hate crime?

The BBC’s charter says it must show proper balance in its reporting and programming and should not be politically biased. It seems to us that there has been no proper balance and that the programmes aired show a political bias to promote and defend the government’s welfare reform, while hiding the views of those who will be directly affected by them.

We insist on our right to have our concerns properly heard and we demand the right to a full and effective ‘right to reply’ to help to counter the weight of the prejudicial propaganda put out by the BBC.

Disabled benefit claimants, unwaged carers and unemployed people are also licence payers, and we have as much right as people who are in paid employment to have a say in the content and conduct of the BBC.

We look forward to a response to start a process by which BBC Directors and programme makers can redress this current bias as soon as possible. This is a matter of urgent concern for thousands of people who have been barely managing to survive and are now faced with destitution or worse.

Claire Glasman- WinVisible
Ellen Cifford – Disabled People Against the Cuts
Joanna Long – Boycott Workfare
Dave Skull -Mad Pride
Johnny Void -Benefit Claimants Fight Back
Andy Greene – Islington Disabled People Against the Cuts
Paul Smith – Atos Vic tims Group
Richard Rieser- Co-ordinator UK Disability History Month
Warren Clarke – Boycott Workfare

The response received from the BBC goes as follows –

We have received a wide range of feedback about this programme and feel it is worth highlighting that considerable correspondence to us has been generated by online lobby activity. Bearing in mind the pressure on resources, the response below strives to address the majority of concerns raised but we apologise in advance if not all of the specific points you have mentioned have been answered in the manner you prefer. Please be assured we have raised your concerns with the programme and have done our best to issue a substantive response.

Panorama’s ‘Britain on the Fiddle’ looked at a number of issues surrounding public sector fraud, including benefit fraud, the nature and extent of the unlawful subletting of council properties, the issue of identity fraud and the misuse of blue badges. The programme also followed the work of some local authority fraud investigators and by doing so revealed how time consuming and costly inquiries into suspected fraud can be.

The programme made it clear that fraud effectively takes money from all of us, especially those in genuine need. On benefit fraud, including incapacity benefit specifically, the programme stressed that most people on benefits really need them and don’t cheat the system.

Far from concentrating on the economically deprived, the programme featured, for example, the case of a man claiming benefits to pay for a council flat whilst owning and running a pub business many miles away – travelling between both destinations in a luxury car.

Furthermore, the film featured fraud investigators tackling the misuse of blue badges. Many people have since written to Panorama to express their gratitude to the programme for highlighting the problem which causes them distress and much inconvenience.

We don’t agree that the cases featured in our film were extreme or were not broadly indicative of instances of benefit fraud. That is not the experience of the local authority fraud investigators who were kind enough to allow us to film their work. Dr Mark Button, from the Centre for Counter Fraud Studies said in the programme:

“I think a lot of organisations are not realistic about the levels of fraud that they face because in any organisation there are large levels of fraud that are undetected. So if they rely on detected levels of fraud they are not getting the picture of the levels of fraud within their organisation.”

Emphasising this, it is important to note that just recently the Audit Commission released its most up to date figures for detected fraud against local government which explains that these figures are only the tip of a very large iceberg.

We believe the programme explored a subject which is clearly in the public interest and did so in a fair and impartial manner.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.
Kind Regards
BBC Complaints