Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people has called on Lord Leveson to rethink his decision to prevent disabled people giving oral evidence to his inquiry into press standards.
Disabled campaigners want to give evidence about national newspapers that have stirred up hostility towards claimants of disability benefits, but say they have been sidelined by the inquiry.
Anne McGuire MP told Disability News Service (DNS) that she was “really disappointed” that Lord Leveson had decided not to take any of this evidence in person.
She said: “Given the onslaught against disabled people that has appeared in the media over the last number of months, you would have thought this would have been something that ought to be aired properly in public at the inquiry.”
She added: “The way in which disabled people have been vilified in the press from my point of view is every bit as important as the way in which politicians and media personalities have been treated.”
McGuire said that the way the media was “misrepresenting the lives of disabled people” was causing many of them “distress” and “beginning to impact on the confidence” of many disabled people.
Disabled people’s organisations – including Inclusion London, the UK Disabled People’s Council and the Disability Hate Crime Network (DHCN) – told 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.
They believe 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 say that headlines such as “Disabled Benefit? Just fill in a form” (in the Daily Mail) and “75% on sick are skiving” (in the Daily Express) 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 although the inquiry has accepted their written statement, it has refused to allow disabled people to give evidence in person.
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, wrote last month to Lord Leveson on behalf of 18 disabled people’s organisations and campaigners to ask him to reconsider his decision, but the inquiry has turned down their request.
A Leveson inquiry spokesman said: “The inquiry has responded to a large number of pieces of correspondence and the position is the same as it was.
“If the shadow minister has other points that she wants to make she is more than entitled to write to the inquiry.”
5 July 2012