The government has been forced to suspend its new spending cuts website after it allowed members of the public to post offensive comments about disabled people – and then failed to remove them.
The Treasury’s Spending Challenge website received more than 15,000 suggestions about how to cut public spending in the first five days after it was opened to the public last week.
But many of the suggestions included offensive comments such as describing disabled people as “spongers” and “too lazy to work” and calling for disability benefits to be cut back “to the bare minimum”, as well as a stream of offensive remarks about other minorities.
Despite claiming the website was being moderated – checked for suitability – the Treasury failed to remove any of the 23 offensive posts about disabled people that were revealed by a brief search of the site by Disability News Service.
One person who posted a comment said that if disabled people can drive “they can afford to buy and run their own car and not sponge off the hard working taxpayers”.
Another proposed that all disability living allowance (DLA) claimants should be give a month’s work to do at home and “if the work has not been completed when collection due, DLA benefit can be reduced accordingly”.
A third proposed that the mobility component of DLA and attendance allowance should be scrapped, with half of the money given to councils and the other half used to pay off the budget deficit.
Yet another called for new criteria for DLA and incapacity benefit in order to “take some people from the ‘disabled’ bracket and put them into the ‘too lazy to work’ bracket”.
And one asked: “Why do we have to pay out large sums of money each month so that disabled individuals can drive around in big, brand new over-priced mobility cars which are ‘free’ to them on the Motability scheme?”
Another said disabled people who received benefits should be given “bare minimum, just enough to live on, without luxury”, with another suggesting the number of people entitled to disability benefits should be “cut to a bare minimum”.
Furious disabled activists said they believed the government had breached its duty to promote disability equality and eliminate harassment under the Disability Discrimination Act, by failing to police the site properly.
Both the Treasury and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) were flooded with complaints about the site. The EHRC has now passed the complaints to its legal enforcement team “for consideration”.
An EHRC spokeswoman said: “We are taking a lot of complaints. The Treasury are bound by the public sector duty [to eliminate harassment and promote equality]. They have a responsibility that they have to live up to.”
Mark White, who runs the campaigning website The Political Cripple, said: “I have been fielding a number of calls from disabled people who are extremely upset that a government site is allowing hate crime.
“We have had to deal with negative stereotyping of disabled people for far too long. It is just unbelievable that the government is providing a venue for it to occur all over again.”
Fellow disabled activist Adam Lotun said disabled people were shocked that the government had allowed “bigoted, ill-informed and nauseating comments to pervade the site”.
RADAR said it was appalled by the “offensive and prejudiced suggestions and comments” on the site, and the failure to remove them.
Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR, said: “Disabled people have plenty of ideas for efficiencies – for instance, reducing the unnecessary multiple assessments we face to one single assessment, saving the government billions of pounds in the process.
“Neither they, nor any other minority group, should be confronted by ill-informed, offensive and dangerous nonsense from prejudiced people.”
A Treasury spokeswoman said there were “strict guidelines in place to ensure any inappropriate comments are removed”, and added: “We know there have been some inappropriate comments and a dedicated team are working through to pull them down.”
But despite her claims, all of the comments above – which were all posted between 9 and 12 July – were still on the website on 15 July.
Access to the website was suspended later that day (15 July).
Another Treasury spokeswoman admitted that the site had been “temporarily suspended so we can moderate what’s on it”, but neither she nor her colleague were available to answer further questions.
15 July 2010