Disabled activists who want to give evidence about newspapers that have stirred up hostility towards claimants of disability benefits appear to have been sidelined by the Leveson inquiry into press standards.
Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) – including Inclusion London, the UK Disabled People’s Council and the Disability Hate Crime Network (DHCN) – told Disability News Service (DNS) last November that they wanted to give evidence to the inquiry, set up in the wake of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.
But although the inquiry has accepted their subsequent written statement, it appears to have ruled out any chance of disabled people giving evidence in person.
Inclusion London, and the other DPOs and activists who signed up to its witness statement, say there is strong evidence that disabled people are facing an increase in targeted hostility and hate crime as a result of stories that have been published in newspapers such as the Daily Mail, particularly on the subject of disability benefits.
They believe that headlines such as “Disabled Benefit? Just fill in a form” and “75% on sick are skiving” are leading to the “demonization” of disabled people, while “fair and accurate reporting, particularly in relation to disability benefit fraud, has gone out the window”.
But despite a joint written submission being accepted and published on the Leveson website, an inquiry spokesman told DNS that it was now too late to take evidence in person on the issue because the inquiry had moved on from discussing the relationship between the press and the public.
He said the inquiry team was “content” with the evidence it had been sent in written form, and added: “They are happy to work off written evidence and submissions and they think they have got enough of them.
“The inquiry is content that it will cover issues around the way the media has treated people with disabilities.”
He said the inquiry intended to publish “further submissions relating to disability issues shortly”.
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said they and other organisations and individuals would be writing to the inquiry to “strongly urge them to specifically address the issue of the portrayal of disabled people in the media” and to ask to be able to give oral evidence to the inquiry.
She said: “This issue is extremely important to disabled people and the impact of current grossly inaccurate reporting is directly linked to rising incidents of disability hate crime and hostility which in turn is causing disabled people to live in fear and anxiety.”
Stephen Brookes, a DHCN coordinator and the retiring joint chair of the National Union of Journalists’ disabled members council, said: “I am deeply dismayed that a real opportunity has been missed by Leveson and those submitting to its work in making the press as a whole take responsibility for creating an environment which is not just hostile to, but actually has created criminal hate towards, disabled people and other minority groups.
“It is of little surprise that disabled people and their organisations are at odds with the media in all its guises.”
3 May 2012