Thursday, 10 November 2011

BBC: Betraying Disabled People

As a British citizen who owns a working television I have to pay my tv license. In return I expect a certain level of service from the BBC, which is meant to be an impartial organisation.

It therefore came as rather a shock to see the latest edition of Panorama which was more worthy of the Daily Mail than it was of the BBC.  Called "Britain on the Fiddle" it showed disability benefit claimants who owned yachts, played golf and it made such claims that the DWP loses 22 billion a year to fraud and error.

The program was unapologetically sensationalist, but worse, either wrong or factually misleading.

It made no mention for instance that incapacity benefit is a non means tested benefit. It is paid to people who have faithfully paid their national insurance contributions and then become too sick to work, checked by a system which is said to be the most stringent in Europe and set to become even more difficult. It is perfectly possible therefore for someone to have savings or own a yacht yet not be a fraud. Do we, as a society, want to push people who have worked all their lives and paid their taxes and national insurance contributions into penury if they have the misfortune to become sick?

The £22 billion figure was even worse. It had no place in a program about disability benefit fraud. Firstly, it is the figure for fraud and error across ALL benefits. Secondly the figure for fraud is only £3.3 billion, the rest being government error. Yet this figure was not mentioned at all. The figure for disability benefit fraud in particular is £1.1 billion. This figure was certainly not mentioned. The general public will have come away from this program with the erroneous, misleading and damaging figure of £22 billion.
When challenged by a member of the public, the BBC all but admitted it had misled the public:
"I understand you were unhappy with the figures that were given out by this programme as you felt they were inaccurate.

I’m sorry if you felt the figures were inaccurate but what was stated in the programme was:

“22 billion pounds a year. According to the latest research that’s how much fraud and error costs the government. A significant chunk of that is benefit fraud.”

As you can see the programme didn’t state that fraud and error in the DWP cost £22 billion but rather that fraud and error overall.

Now, 1.1 billion out of 22 is not a "significant chunk" by any means. It is 5%. I expect better from the BBC, a company I pay for and is supposed to fairly represent all members of society, not demonise them.

This follows a trend from the BBC.
Over the past year it has:
Closed down the disability messageboard despite great protest and without undertaking an impact assessment.
Chosen not to cover the Paralympics.
Shown little to no coverage of the Hardest Hit marches, the largest street demonstrations of disabled people in the past decade.
Refused to report on the stories of the problems of the WCA and its impact on disabled people.
Refused to report on UNUM, ATOS and their vested conflict of interest in designing the WCA in the first place.
Not reported any disability linked questions at any of the recent party conferences even when Ed Milliband was caught out at question time and the questioner was followed right the way to the toilet to get her story!

Now the BBC seems to be crossing the line and actively attacking disabled people on benefits. This comes at a time when hate crime against disabled people is rising rapidly, when savage cuts are being proposed and hoped to be passed thanks in part to a misinformed public who wrongly believe that fraud is rife and benefits easy to obtain. The BBC should be informing the public, not joining in on a witch hunt.

Shame on you, BBC.

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