Thursday, 4 April 2013
Open Letter to the Telegraph
Dear Daily Telegraph,
Yesterday, you published an article by Allison Pearson, ("Mick Philpot, a good reason to cut benefits" 3rd April) based on a press release issued over the Easter weekend by Conservative Central Office. (NB :NOT the DWP who are barred from issuing overtly political and partisan press releases)
Your original story (900,000 choose to come off sickness benefit ahead of tests, 30th March) claimed "828,300 sick or disabled ppl had chosen to drop their claims rather than face new tougher assessments (my italics). That claim simply isn't true.
What's more, it wasn't true back in April 2011, either, when the gov first made the same false claim.
A little while later, The DWP's themselves issued figures showing a huge proportion (94%) of claims were dropped because the person got better or went back to work. They dropped their claims because they were honest, not because they were dishonest!!
There is a three month qualifying period for out of work sickness benefits. (ESA/IB)
As you can imagine, most people need a little help to get through a nasty illness or accident at some point in their lives.
Maybe a weekend rugby player who snaps his collar bone resulting in 2 months off work, or the Mum who needs a sudden hysterectomy and time afterwards to heal? This will happen to every last one of us at some point.
But you can't get help when you really need it any more, in those first terrible weeks of pain and recovery. Now you have to wait 3 months before you can apply.
In that time, for all but the most unfortunate, bones and scars will have healed and the person will be back on their feet again.
With no point in continuing the claim, people do the honest thing and let the DWP know they no longer need support.
This information is all in the public domain and all proven by evidence. Yet the government send out a politicised press release over the Easter weekend aimed at mis-leading the public and encouraging an entire nation to mis-trust one of the most vulnerable groups in society.
Worse still, you run the story unquestioningly, repeating claims that had already been proven to be completely untrue.
Today, referring to the same misleading conservative HQ press release, Allison suggests a child murdering abuser (Mick Philpott) is somehow representative of the same group of very unwell or disabled people
"That’s nearly a million Britons who were taking the Mick. And they didn’t stop until they were about to be found out."
The aim of these press releases and subsequent articles in your paper is clearly to demonise people with severe illnesses or disabilities, to imply that nearly a million of them were dishonest scroungers when exactly the opposite is true and to make a wider public resent and judge a group of people who most need their support.
If its simply headlines you need, I can give you plenty : "140,000 incorrect sickness benefit decisions legally overturned" or how about "Disability testing centres inaccessible to disabled people" or maybe "Sick and disabled ppl to lose £28.3 billion - nearly a quarter of the entire deficit."
I can barely bring myself to ask why a government in 2013, here in the UK, would feel it can repeatedly issue information they know to be untrue in order to vilify people with conditions like cancer or MS or cerebral palsy.
But that a national newspaper can support such a dangerous campaign, or be complicit in misleading the public to believe the worst of those most in need? That's truly shocking to me.
When stories are this sensitive and affect so many disadvantaged people, we have a duty to get it right. If these welfare "reforms" are just, the government should have no need to mislead or misinform.
But as Lord Leveson's report so recently showed, it's even more important that any information making claims about people who, in many cases, won't even be able to respond for themselves, is closely scrutinised and balanced.
We can't afford to get this wrong. History will judge us on the success or failure of these reforms. How sensitively were they handled? How accurate were they? How many suffered?
Finally, lets remember this is not simply a minority issue. A huge 3.4 million people with long term illnesses or disabilities will be affected by these changes to social security, not to mention their families and carers. The rest of us will all need a little support at some point.
Approaching reform with a degree of honesty and sensitivity is surely the very least sick and disabled people can expect?