Livewire - November 9, 2011

WED LIVE WIRE - Stephen Brookes
WED LIVE WIRE - Stephen Brookes
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By Stephen Brookes, disability consultant, of Bispham

Over the last few months in the national press we have seen a continuous drip-feed of stories which promote a range of inaccurate and even false accusations against disabled people with long-term health conditions.

As a result, disabled people face greater hostility from the public, with many claiming that they have experienced discrimination and even physical attacks from strangers each and every week.

Victims blame ministers and the DWP for portraying most disabled people as scroungers as they seek to cut the number of people on benefits. The Government has presented changes and cuts through their communications teams as a way of getting tough on people who are cheating the system. The majority of disabled people actively support legal action against those few who do falsely claim, but equally, Scope, and other charities jointly agree that there is powerful evidence that the “backdrop of negativity” behind the cuts is leading to a rise in hostility and even violence towards some of the most vulnerable in society who fairly and correctly claim for needed support.

Rather than offering constructive support to disabled people, certain features have portrayed disabled people as unsustainable, unproductive and even not disabled at all, but profiting from fraudulent benefit claims.

No attention is paid to the overwhelming evidence of disability groups, the British Medical Journal, CAB and the findings of the Harrington report showing that a good number of these allegations have been based on inaccurate or skewed statistics, generally from those who stand to gain most from the spin. The latest available figures from the DWP state that the fraud rate for Incapacity benefit is just 0.5 per cent. The fraud rate for Disability Living Allowance is also just 0.5 per cent, meaning that 99.5 per cent of claimants are not fraudulent. They have the lowest level of fraud of all in relation to welfare benefits.

It should be noted that the figures for official error for both benefits are actually higher than the level of fraud, at 1.7 per cent for Incapacity Benefit and 0.8 per cent for DLA.

The NUJ Disabled Members Council, which I jointly chair, urges all journalists to operate within a recognised code of ethics which upholds rights of individuals and groups to fair and just representation, to support and sustain fair and balanced reporting of matters relating to disabled people increasingly fearful, not just of the cuts forced on them, but the continual demonising of disability.