Open Letter in Response to Media Portrayal of Disabled Persons and Disability Benefit Claimants

We the undersigned are deeply angered and concerned with the way sick and disabled people are being portrayed by the press and wider media as well as the distinct lack of fair and accurate reporting in relation to disability benefits. The use of defamatory language is being used in a totally irresponsible and callous manner by a steadily increasing number of newspapers and other media providers. We believe that the press and the wider media are blatantly using this language as a means of labelling all disabled benefit claimants as 'cheats' and 'scroungers', yet most are genuine sick and disabled people who are in many instances unable to work and are asking for only the very basic levels of support. Such support is in no way over generous as some newspapers are claiming with administrative error and miscalculations at 0.5%. In fact disability benefits like Disability Living Allowance have some of the lowest levels of fraud of all forms of social security benefits and it is estimated that billions remain unclaimed in benefits every year. A significant fact that news provider’s and even the coalition government are neglecting to inform the public. We also believe that whilst many claimants are now being found fit for work through the use of new assessment processes, most often the press and wider media are shirking in their responsibility to report from both sides and about the large number of sick and disabled people who are being wrongfully found fit for work and who are later having those decisions overturned in their favour by a social security tribunal. They also fail to report on people found ‘fit for work’ by Atos Healthcare, the private health firm contracted to carry out work capability assessments on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions. Those people then find that they cannot claim Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) because they are ‘unfit for work’ as deemed by the JSA qualifying criteria. These people often have to rely upon handouts and food parcels and become lost statistics unseen by the public. The signatories of this letter are greatly concerned that the way the press and wider media are portraying sick and disabled people will continue to fuel a growing hatred and discrimination, adding to increasing reports of hate crime towards disabled people and the potential for suicides already being reported by some news providers. Whilst we support the democratic idea of a free and open press we feel that they have a moral and social duty. We ask that they refrain from the use of language and/or defamatory terms which is fuelling the growing and unjust public hate and disdain of sick and disabled people and benefit claimants. We also ask that they honour and obligate to report all stories related to disability and disability benefits in a manner that best informs their readers and viewers which is balanced, accurate and fair.

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