Monday, 23 June 2014

PIP fiasco! But where was the press 2 years ago?

A little over 2 years ago, I and a handful of other disabled people wrote what is now known as the Spartacus Report.
We exposed the sham consultation run by the government into the abolition of DLA for working age claimants and its replacement by PIP.
Thousands of disabled people came together on social media in an unprecedented campaign to highlight the report and the importance of DLA in their lives.
Together, we sent the report to all the representatives in the House of Lords and all MPs.

Alarmed by the proposals and seeing the harm they would cause, we were doing whatever we could to mitigate the damage the then Welfare Reform Bill would do. Voting was still ongoing, the bill was not yet law, and it seemed there was still a chance to avoid disaster.

But we ran into trouble. No one in the media was interested. Yet the government had disobeyed its own rules. It had misled parliament. It was going to enact laws which would harm thousands of disabled people. Surely this would be enough to get the press talking?

The answer was an emphatic "No". Why? The same question came up again and again.
"Where is the human interest angle? Do you have an example? Can we talk to someone "suffering" please?"
We explained that no, no one was suffering yet, but that if nothing was done then there would be plenty of examples in a few years time. Our aim was to prevent that from happening in the first place.
The press was implacable. No sobbing disabled person? Then no, sorry. No can do.

As a lot of people know, we did eventually get coverage. This is only due to the fact that voting in the Lords swung in our favour against the government and this was, in part, put down to the impact of our report.
Questions were raised in the Commons by prominent MPs. It started to become a story.

Thanks to Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson an amendment was added attempting to get PIP halted and a proper trial imposed. Unfortunately by now the government was desperate to avoid an embarrassing 4th defeat and the proposal was narrowly defeated by just 16 votes.
In any case it would hardly have mattered. The government invoked the archaic law of "financial privilege" to override all amendments the Lords had voted for. I have to say that this for me, was the day I realised democracy is dead.

Two years on and PIP is indeed failing. Inquiries have been launched. The Public Accounts Committee has deemed it a "fiasco" and condemned the lack of a pilot scheme, saying
"The department's failure to pilot the scheme meant that the most basic assumptions, such as how long assessments would take and how many would require face-to-face consultations, had not been fully tested and proved to be wrong."
This has resulted in "significant delays, a backlog of claims and unnecessary distress for claimants who have been unable to access the support they need to live, and in some cases work, independently".
They also revealed that claimants had been forced to turn to food banks, charities and loans.

There is no joy in "I told you so" though.
The press is now gleefully and ghoulishly commissioning articles and reports about terminally ill patients going without any support in the last few months of their lives or disabled people resorting to food banks.
While these articles need writing, I question the motives of those commissioning them. They can spare me their crocodile tears. They have finally got their "human interest" stories. Is this not what they wanted?

In my eyes they are complicit in this. Where were they when they were needed? If they really did care, they would have ensured that what the government was doing was fully reported and that the public was made aware of what was happening. Then maybe, just maybe, this whole thing could have been averted in the first place.

ADDENDUM: I would like to make clear that I do not hold individual journalists (such as the ones who have written the pieces linked to in this blog post) personally responsible for this lack of interest and demand for "tragedy". I do however hold the various newspapers and TV channels responsible, with a flawed commissioning process.


  1. It's a sad inditement on our society that media stories need a hook, a hero or a villain. The effects of disability legislation are too boring because modern news is about entertainment, it really is that shallow a world we're living in. But even I was surprised that there was no follow up to the Panorama or Dispatches programmes on the work capability assessment. It points to tv channels being frightened to directly counter the government, even though they lost the general election.