Good news for disabled people trapped on benefits. Iain Duncan Smith is aiming to help a million of them compete in the jobs market. He’s made a startling discovery, one that has previously eluded trained medical professionals, presumably because they lack Duncan Smith’s ‘outside the box’ thinking: “There is one area on which I believe we haven’t focused enough – how work is good for your health. Work can help keep people healthy as well as help promote recovery if someone falls ill. So, it is right that we look at how the system supports people who are sick and helps them into work.”
Of course, Duncan Smith will shortly provide the evidence to back up his theories – medical trials and stuff – and when the reforms are implemented disabled claimants will be assessed by appropriate medical professionals and not by physiotherapists using discredited tick-box computer software provided an American insurance company. And, as the well-being of sick and disabled people is too important to unquestioningly trust to the ideological whims of unqualified politicians, our news media are keeping a close eye on these developments, seeking the opinions of disabled people and medical professionals and encouraging debate, just like they did during the last parliament. The BBC in particular, with its left wing bias, is giving this story close scrutiny.
The good old BBC. You can always trust it to give us unbiased coverage of the issues that matter, representing all the citizens who fund it via the licence fee.
Back in this reality, I sat down to Monday night’s BBC six o clock news bulletin. Once we got to the coverage of the split up of One Direction I realised that there would be no report on Duncan Smith’s latest reforms. Due to budget cuts, the BBC has been shedding journalists, so maybe they couldn’t spare someone to ask a few disabled people how Duncan Smith’s latest ‘reforms’ might impact on their lives. They did send out a reporter to ask some teenage girls how they felt about their favourite boyband breaking up. Of course, cultural stories are important, and One Direction are one of the biggest acts in the world, icons to millions. And you can only fit so much into a half hour slot.
But this isn’t just an isolated lapse by the BBC. It’s entirely consistent with their coverage of disability benefits issues since 2010.
It’s not hard to find examples of the horrific results of Duncan Smith’s ‘reforms’. During the Commons Work Capability Assessment Debate on 17th January 2013, which was broadcast live on BBC Parliament, Labour MP Michael Meacher related three harrowing examples of appalling Atos decisions. As he notes in the quote, he could have chosen from hundreds. Here are the three he chose:
‘The first example concerns a constituent of mine who was epileptic almost from birth and was subject to grand mal seizures. At the age of 24, he was called in by Atos, classified as fit for work and had his benefit cut by £70 a week. He appealed, but became agitated and depressed and lost weight, fearing that he could not pay his rent or buy food. Three months later, he had a major seizure that killed him. A month after he died, the DWP rang his parents to say that it had made a mistake and his benefit was being restored.
‘The second example, also from the Oldham area, concerns a middle-aged woman who was registered blind and in an advanced stage of retinitis pigmentosa. She was assessed at 9 points—well short of the 15 that are needed—and her incapacity benefit was withdrawn. On review by a tribunal, the Atos rating of 9 points was increased to 24.
‘The third case—I could have chosen from hundreds of others—also comes from the north-west and concerns an insulin-dependent diabetic with squamous cell cancer, Hughes syndrome, which involves a failed immune system, peripheral neuropathy, which meant that he had no feeling in his feet or legs, heart disease, depression and anxiety. Despite his life-threatening condition, he was placed in the work-related activity group.’ (http://www.michaelmeacher.info/weblog/2013/01/my-speech-on-atos-work-capability-assessments/#more-4780)
There, live on a BBC channel, an MP states that he has details of hundreds of such cases. Why didn’t the BBC follow this up? I thought journalists love a scandal?
Compare the BBC’s (lack of) reporting of disability benefit issues to the hooha it kicked up over the loss of child benefit for higher earners. The BBC treated that as a major news story for three days. Coverage included: interviewing (in their own home) a couple who would be losing child benefit due to the husband’s 60K salary; a BBC news reader asking a tax adviser if there were any ‘perfectly legal things’ higher earners could do to avoid losing the benefit; repeated showings of an interview with Daily Mail journalist Angela Epstein (household income over £100K) complaining about ‘the moral stink’ of high earners like herself losing the benefit.
Why no similar outrage over the treatment of the sick and disabled? Why is no one complaining about ‘the moral stink’ of legislation that threatens thousands of sick and disabled people with hardship? The BBC could find fresh stories of indignity and financial hardship inflicted on disabled people to report every day, but it chooses not to.
What do we make of this? I can only conclude that the BBC, fearful of losing its funding, is avoiding stories that show the government in a bad light. It’s either that or the management and journalists at the BBC news are so far removed from the lives of ‘ordinary’ people that they cannot comprehend the effects of benefits cuts on disabled people who do not have private health plans and income protection insurance.
The latter is unlikely, isn’t it? If I, from the comfort of my armchair, can find countless examples of the misery caused by Tory ‘reforms’ of disability benefits, it’s hard to imagine that the BBC has just missed all this stuff. I mean, a Labour MP states, live on BBC Parliament, that he has hundreds of such cases and no BBC journalist is just a little curious?
The BBC’s coverage of these issues is shameful, the work not of a public service broadcaster but of a state broadcaster hiding a scandal in fear of offending its political masters.