Press complaint to the Independent Press Standards Organisation by Disability Rights UK

Tue,6 June 2023
Announcement Benefits
A DR UK response to the Daily Telegraph's appalling story on “Exactly how much of your salary bankrolls the welfare state”

Disability Rights UK was shocked and disturbed by the narrative driving the Telegraph’s story, in particular its targeting of sick and Disabled people, as being unworthy of state support. The story was designed to “other” sick and Disabled people and to question their right to receive financial support. At any time, this narrative would be unacceptable but at a time when all the evidence shows that sick and Disabled people are hit hardest by the cost-of-living crisis, this type of “journalism” is even more unconscionable.

Our statement and complaint is as follows:

"We register our complaint against the Telegraph in the strongest terms. We would ask that you investigate our complaint as a matter of urgency. In addition, we ask you to consider whether the IPSO guidance to the press, in relation to disablist narratives and language, is sufficiently robust.

The media has a responsibility to tackle ableism and disablism and to uphold principles of equality and fairness. Instead, we have seen a spate of media rhetoric vilifying sick and Disabled people. Headlines like “Exactly how much of your salary bankrolls the welfare state” the subtitle “Britain isn’t working – calculate what it’s costing you,” and the disturbing “Roughly 3.7 million have been granted indefinite exemptions from finding a job”, encourage negativity towards Disabled people who need financial support to exist day to day. The thrust of the piece on those who “do not work” is obviously directed at Disabled people. Lurid and provocative headlines like this have the potential to spark an even further rise in Disability hate crime, which has more than doubled in the last four years.

The reality for those on benefits is that support structures to assist those who wish to work have been cut to the bone. The ire of the Telegraph would be better focused on the fact that more investment is needed to support people into work and to ensure that the working environment is inclusive, as well as advocating for those who cannot work to be given enough money to live on - thousands of Disabled people are in poverty and debt as a result of meagre sick-pay and benefits.

Scope has recently published updated figures for the extra cost of living with a disability. More households have fallen into poverty and the number of disabled people out of work has increased noting that “The higher cost of specialist equipment, higher usage of everyday essentials and energy, and an inadequate welfare system, are all making it harder for disabled households to meet the extra cost of disability.” It now costs an extra £975 a month for Disabled households to have the same standard of living as non-disabled households.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation also found in their early 2023 report that “Disabled people face a higher risk of poverty and have done so for at least the last 20 years. This is driven partly by the additional costs associated with disability and ill-health, and partly by the barriers to work disabled people face. As a result, disabled people and/or families where someone is disabled frequently rely on benefit payments as a source of income, which at current rates will almost inevitably lead to higher poverty rates”.

Factual reporting and decent investigative journalism are what is needed, not smash and grab, deliberately anger-inducing shock, and awe headlines. Surely the central principle of journalism is to provide accurate and reliable information.

As Disability Rights UK understands it, the core journalistic principles are:

  • Getting the facts right
  • Getting both sides of the story
  • Not publishing rumours
  • Upholding accuracy, fairness, independence, and accountability.

As representatives of the Disabled community, we have a duty to combat dangerous media rhetoric. It shouldn’t be the job of a Disabled Peoples Organisation to hold the media to account and establish the truth, that should be the job of editors and standards bodies. We ask you to make sure Disabled people are not being scapegoated and to ensure that there is balance, that the truth about life on benefits is reported factually rather than commentated on without investigation.

As a complaint’s authority, we hope that you remind the Telegraph of these and encourage them to stop trying to inflame division against those who have no voice to respond and remind them of the rules of journalism.

We look forward to your prompt response and prompt action against the Telegraph."