Mail welfare story sparks complaints to press watchdog


Disabled campaigners have complained to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) after a national newspaper accused hundreds of thousands of disabled people of “trying it on” in a bid to secure out-of-work disability benefits.

The story in the Daily Mail was based on a government press release that aimed to justify its welfare reforms by pointing to the number of people being assessed as “fit for work” through the controversial work capability assessment (WCA).

But campaigners have accused the Mail of inaccuracy, discrimination and harassment of disabled people.

The article was published only two days after disabled activists took to the streets to complain about the unfairness of the WCA, and the company that carries out the tests.

The Mail story says the government’s “astonishing figures laid bare how 94 per cent of new claimants were either ‘trying it on’ or would be fit enough to work in the near future”.

The story implies that most people who applied for ESA were trying to defraud the system, stating that “just six per cent of one million claimants who tried to obtain sickness benefit in the last two years of Labour were actually incapable of working”.

The figures actually show that of those applicants for employment and support allowance (ESA) – the replacement for incapacity benefit – who completed the WCA, only two-thirds were found “fit for work” and ineligible for ESA.

The Mail story included disabled people placed in the “work-related activity group” – who have not been found “fit for work” – to reach its “astonishing” 94 per cent.

A follow-up column in the same paper – with a headline stating “400,000 benefits cheats show scale of workshy Britain” – then refers to unsuccessful claimants as “scroungers” who are “on the fiddle” and “defrauding the system”.

But more than 40 per cent of those found “fit for work” are appealing against that decision, and about 40 per cent of these are successful and have subsequently been placed on ESA.

An initial complaint about the story was made to the PCC by members of the campaigning blog The Broken of Britain, who say the 94 per cent figure is “a clear manipulation of the facts in order to produce a highly misleading headline”.

They also say the headline “400,000 ‘were trying it on’ to get sickness benefits” – was “grossly inaccurate”.

Six more complaints have been lodged about the news story, under clauses in the PCC code relating to accuracy, discrimination and harassment.

A string of serious concerns have been raised by disability organisations about the unfairness of the WCA, particularly for those with fluctuating conditions or hidden impairments, such as people with mental health conditions.

An independent review last November was highly critical of the test and said the government should improve “every stage” of it to make it “fairer and more effective”.

The Daily Mail declined to comment on the complaints.

3 February 2011