Disabled activists who spent months preparing a hard-hitting report that reveals how the government misled parliament over its disability living allowance (DLA) reforms say they are mystified and frustrated by the media’s failure to cover the story.
Despite huge interest in the Responsible Reform report across social media – with the report “trending” on Twitter at number one and two for much of the launch day – there was almost no mainstream coverage on television or in national newspapers.
Sue Marsh, one of the disabled bloggers and activists who led the research, said the reaction to the campaigning report on Twitter “went beyond our wildest dreams” and there was initial media interest in a report that had been researched, written and funded by disabled people themselves.
The report itself was backed by a string of disability charities and other organisations, and leading Twitter-using celebrities including Stephen Fry, comedian Mark Thomas, presenters Sue Perkins and Hardeep Singh Kohli, and Alastair Campbell, the former Labour Downing Street communications director.
But late on the day before the report was due to be published, the mainstream media interest began to evaporate, despite the campaign’s “very clear objectives” and “clear costed solutions”.
Marsh said: “It just seems to me that there is a red line, and journalists have decided that these welfare changes have to go through and they are not going to rock the boat. They all seem to think that the government has to be allowed to do this.”
The disabled peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson was one of those who commented on Twitter, questioning why the report wasn’t being covered on television news bulletins.
Sir Bert Massie, former chair of the Disability Rights Commission, said he was “disappointed but not surprised” at the lack of media coverage.
He said the kind of “counter-blast” delivered by Responsible Reform was so important because the government was undermining public confidence in the benefits system, for example by encouraging newspapers like the Daily Mail to run stories about “benefit scroungers”.
He said the government’s “gung-ho dogma” on welfare reform would “cause a lot of heartbreak and leave us with a worse system”.
Marsh said the failure of the mainstream media to cover the report – also known as the “Spartacus Report” – only reinforced the importance of social media to disabled campaigners and left the rest of the media looking “out of touch and behind the curve”.
She said: “We have been ignored by the media and politicians. We should be showing we have power and a voice of our own.”
12 January 2012