Disabled people are being demonised in the press as “work shy” and “scroungers” and as a result are facing hostility from the public and in some cases physical attacks.
In response, the NUJ’s Disabled Members Council has issued a statement urging journalists to operate within our recognised code of ethics, which calls on all NUJ members and media colleagues to “support and sustain fair and balanced reporting of matters relating to disabled people”.
The council talks of a drip feed of stories relating to incapacity benefit fraud, when the facts show it is, at 0.3 per cent, the lowest of all welfare benefit frauds. Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary said: “The NUJ stands up for fair and accurate reporting of disability issues. The union has a long-standing ethical code of conduct and provides reporting guidance to NUJ members.
“In the current climate we are asking all journalists to think long and hard before writing stories that whip up hatred against disabled people and those with long term health conditions. The NUJ is opposed to all prejudice and scapegoating based on a person's disability or perceived disability and this includes anyone who is targeted as a result of their physical disability, sensory impairment, learning disability or mental health.
“Our disabled members are reporting increased discrimination and physical attacks – so we have issued the following NUJ statement to raise awareness and express our solidarity.”
NUJ Disabled Members Council Statement relating to media coverage of disabled people:
Over the last few months we have seen a continuous drip-feed of stories which have promoted a range of inaccurate and generalised accusations against disabled people with long term health conditions. As a result disabled people have faced greater hostility from the public, with many claiming that they have experienced hostility, discrimination and even physical attacks from strangers.
The majority of disabled people actively support legal action against those few who do falsely claim, but equally, Scope, and other charities agree that there is powerful evidence that a "backdrop of negativity" behind the cuts is leading to a rise in hostility and even violence towards some of the most vulnerable in society who fairly and correctly claim benefits.
The Work and Pensions Select Committee on Incapacity Benefit have themselves criticised the Government for the language it uses when it releases and comments on official statistics on the incapacity benefit reassessment programme resulting in some media using terms such as "scrounger" and "work shy".
Further investigation into the Government's own statistics on the incapacity benefit fraud rate reveal that this particular benefit has a fraud rate of 0.3% which is the lowest of all welfare benefits. Disability Living Allowance also has a low rate of 0.5%, again, much lower than other benefit rates.Rather than offering constructive support to disabled people, certain stories and features have portrayed disabled people as unsustainable, unproductive and even not disabled at all, but profiting from fraudulent benefit claims. However, little attention is paid to the poor performance of ATOS Healthcare in respect of their medical assessments which continue to be criticised by UK Parliamentary inquiries as well as by advocacy groups such as the Citizens Advice Bureau. Indeed the UK Department of work and Pensions is reported in 2011 to have by far the highest number of decisions overturned at appeal by any UK Department of State.The NUJ Disabled Members Council calls on all journalists to continue to operate within our recognised code of ethics, which upholds the rights of all individuals and groups to fair and just representation. In line with our code the Disabled Members Council call on the NEC, all NUJ members and media colleagues to support and sustain fair and balanced reporting of matters relating to disabled people who are increasingly fearful, not just of the cuts being forced on them, but also of the continual demonising of disability.