The broadcaster Jeremy Vine is facing angry calls for a personal apology after a member of his team published a social media post in his name that asked if it was time to “crack down” on sick and disabled people on out-of-work benefits.
The post on Twitter – which has since been deleted – even asked if such payments should be stopped.
It was the latest example of politicians and the media scapegoating disabled people for the country’s economic struggles.
And it echoes years of similar comments across the media and politics that have been blamed for driving an increase in disability hate crime.
The post from the “Jeremy Vine on 5” account – linked to his Channel 5 daytime discussion programme – said: “Is it time to crack down on jobless benefits?
“Nearly four million people in the UK are being supported by the state without ever having to look for a job.
“That’s because they’ve been deemed too sick to work. Is it wrong for taxpayers to fund them indefinitely?”
The post drew an immediate response from disabled campaigners, accusing the broadcaster of disablism, “trolling” and “demonising” sick and disabled people, and of being a “rabblerouser”.
Soon after Disability News Service asked Channel 5 if Vine (pictured) would apologise for the tweet, it was deleted.
The post came two weeks after a safeguarding review criticised the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for failings that contributed to the death of Errol Graham, a disabled man from Nottingham who starved to death after it wrongly stopped his out-of-work benefits*.
In April, Tom Pursglove, the minister for disabled people, posted a “hostile” video on social media suggesting disability benefit fraud was a serious problem, even though his own department released figures just weeks later showing only a tiny proportion of spending was paid out to fraudulent claims.
Rick Burgess, campaigns lead at Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said: “It is no accident that as the government plans to cut support for disabled people, the media again regurgitate hateful smears that demonise disabled people.
“This was not journalism, it was populist rhetoric to excite a baying mob.
“Jeremy Vine needs to apologise and do extensive work to make this right; simply deleting the tweet does nothing.”
Black Triangle, which was launched 13 years ago to defend disabled people from similar attacks, also condemned the tweet.
John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, accused the programme of “defaming” and “scapegoating” disabled people and called on Vine to retract the statement.
He said the return of the narrative that disabled people were a “burden on the economy” was “unbelievable” and “exhausting”, and he called on the Labour opposition to end its silence on such attacks.
Paula Peters, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “For 13 years, disabled people have endured hateful rhetoric from the government and mainstream media; we’ve been called scroungers, fraudsters and a lot worse.”
She said this had contributed to reports of disability hate crime to police doubling in just four years.
Speaking before the tweet was removed, she said that it “shows the vile rhetoric towards disabled people is still very much prevalent among the mainstream media, which continues to cause considerable distress to disabled people today.
“The offensive tweet should be removed without delay and Jeremy Vine should immediately apologise to disabled people for the distress [the] vile remarks have caused.”
Tori, founder of Ehlers-Danlos Teesside, and another disabled campaigner who saw the tweet, said that “ramping up the anti-welfare rhetoric” by the media “sets a dangerous precedent to allow people to question disabled and chronically ill people’s validity”.
She said that allowing the media to portray such a line of questioning as “legitimate debate” was “abhorrent” in a society where the government has “already overseen the active persecution of not only disabled but actual dying human beings, where suicide rates are skyrocketing”.
Tori said such rhetoric “encourages ableism and in turn eugenics”.
Vine has so far failed to comment, apologise for the tweet put out under his name, or say what action he will take to ensure that such posts are not repeated.
Channel 5 has also failed to explain how the tweet was posted, what action it will take to avoid a repetition, and whether it understands the depth of anger about the post.
In a statement that appeared to repeat the disablism of the original tweet, a spokesperson for Channel 5 said: “The issue of benefits was front page news that morning after reports that millions of people were receiving benefits without ever having to look for work following a surge in claims of mental health issues and joint pain during lockdown.”
She said the tweet had been removed as it “could have been misconstrued, so [Channel 5] would like to apologise to anyone offended”.
She said the issue was eventually covered by a fellow presenter, Alexis Conran – whose programme comes under the “Jeremy Vine on 5” umbrella – and not by Vine, with what she said was a “fair and balanced” debate.
And she said the tweet had not come from Vine’s personal Twitter account.
Tori said Channel 5’s response was “absolutely ridiculous”.
She said: “It’s infuriating because you’ve got the government putting out videos of a minister in a fake police uniform with DWP on it and then you’ve got ableds discussing disabled people as if they are disposable and contribute nothing to society.
“Debating it is not OK. We’re living through a pandemic which is creating more disabled people.”
She said: “Why don’t they talk about that? It’s absolutely vile what they are doing.”
*Labour’s Debbie Abrahams has secured a parliamentary adjournment debate on Tuesday (6 June) into the safeguarding review and evidence secured by Disability News Service that DWP hid vital evidence from the review
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