The Daily Express has published yet another slavering and distorted attack on benefit claimants, the day after the Work and Pensions Select Committee issued a forthright attack on misleading tabloid coverage. Under the headline “SICK BENEFITS: 75% ARE FAKING” the paper has printed a 700-word story by deputy political editor Alison Little based on exactly the sort of statistical fudging that the committee has condemned.
The figure of 75% is based on applications for Employment and Support Allowance between October 2008 and December of last year. It combines those deemed “fit for work” (39%) with applicants who withdrew before a Work Capability Assessment could be completed (36%) — a category that the Express immediately labels as “fakers”, despite the fact that many claimants may simply have recovered. According to a spokesman from Full Fact, the statistics also fail to take into account the results of appeals, which would lower the overall figure by at least 5%.
Today’s Express headline bears striking similarities to another from February — “70% of Britons on incapacity benefits found to be fit for work” — which is singled out for direct criticism in the select committee’s report. But since the Express‘s parent group withdrew from the jurisdiction of the PCC in January, it is unlikely to be seriously challenged.
According to the committee, this endemic problem is the fault of editors rather than ministers:
“The Minister stressed that the Government had played no part in feeding media stories which referred to benefit claimants being ‘work-shy’ or ‘scroungers’.”
With plans to cut disability benefits by over £2bn, the DWP’s actions seem to be speaking louder than its words.