Daily Mail And Daily Express Launch Attack On The Disabled, Again – And Fail, Again.

by richardhutton

Beginning with full, red-cheeked thunder, the Express blusters that:

“The scandal of Britain’s out-of-control benefits system is dramatically exposed today in a report showing it doles out more in a key welfare payment than almost any other country. Britain spends proportionally more in disability handouts than the US, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Japan”[1].

And how much does this out-of-control extravaganza of benefits amount to? According to the Express itself: 2.4% of Britain’s Gross Domestic Product is spent on disability support; 0.5% on sickness.

The report in question remains a mystery, because no name is provided. It is attributed to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; and the OECD does release data privately to journalists – so it is barely possible that the Express are not making this up – but a day later, the Daily Mail published an identical article[2], which, likewise, did not provide a name/link for the report either. It blusters away in the same idiom as the Express[3]:

“The OECD figures show that Britain spends 2.4 per cent of national output on the benefit – more than France, Germany, Italy or Spain. The share of GDP is more than double the 1 per cent in the US – and six times Japan’s 0.4 per cent…The study found that Britain spends 0.5 per cent of its GDP on sickness handouts such as incapacity benefits”[4].

Due to the correspondence between these two articles, it is clear that the Express/Mail were repeating claims from the same unidentified source in December 2012. However, this is not the first time that these assertions have been made by either newspaper. In fact, two years ago, both the Express and the Mail published articles which were remarkably similar[5]. What stands out from reading these commentaries is a definite formula underlying their composition.

Let’s look at how similar their respective claims are, despite two years’ difference:

Title of article

‘Benefits Britain Exposed’ (Express, 2010)

‘The sick man of Europe: UK tops chart for number of young people off work claiming incapacity benefit’ (Mail, 2010)

‘How Britain Nearly Tops The Global Benefits League’ (Express, 2012)

‘Britain leads the world in handing out disability cash: Nation spends twice as much as U.S. and six times as much as Japan’ (Mail, 2012)

Lead-in

“Benefits Britain was laid bare last night after official figures revealed that nine in 10 long-term sick pay claimants are well enough to work” (Express, 2010).

“The full extent of Britain’s sick note culture among the young was laid bare last night by an international report” (Mail, 2010).

“The scandal of Britain’s out-of-control benefits system is dramatically exposed today in a report” (Express, 2012).

“Disability benefits are costing Britain more than almost any other western country” (Mail, 2012)

Primary allegation

“findings reveal the culture of dependence created by Labour and suggest that more than two million of the 2.6 million currently claiming incapacity benefit should be at work” (Express, 2010)

“Far more of our young adults are ‘on the sick’ than in any other country in the Western world – exposing how our generous benefits system allows our culture of dependency to thrive. And we spend more on incapacity benefits than almost any other nation…” (Mail, 2010).

“Britain spends proportionally more in disability handouts than the US, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Japan. The report details how bills for disability welfare are growing in all major economies despite the defeat of many disabling illnesses” (Express, 2012).

“Disability benefits are costing Britain more than almost any other western country. The revelation in a report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development will add fuel to the Government’s drive to cut back on the handout” (Mail, 2012).

Source cited (without actually specifying study/report)

“figures show the outcome of ‘work capability assessment’ tests on people who applied for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which replaced Incapacity Benefit in 2008” (Express, 2010).

“The study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which represents industrialised nations, exposes how generous our sickness and disability handouts are compared to our competitors… our spending on these benefits is above the OECD average, and twice the level in France and Germany ” (Mail, 2010).

“The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said Britain’s expenditure as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product soared by a third between 2005 and 2009 – when the average for OECD and EU countries was more or less flat” (Express, 2012).

“The revelation in a report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development…the OECD figures show” (Mail, 2012)

Unreferenced statistical claims

“Of the 292,300 assessments carried out between October 2008 and December 2009, 68 per cent – 199,700 people – were rated ‘fit for work’” (Express, 2010)[6].

“This proportion on disability handouts is almost three times the 1.5 per cent average in the OECD… ”  (Mail, 2010).

“Britain spends 2.4 per cent of its GDP on disability benefits …the OECD average is only 1.3 per cent” (Express, 2012).

“OECD figures show that Britain spends 2.4 per cent of national output on the benefit – more than France, Germany, Italy or Spain” (Mail, 2012).

Reaction from the same group – which has no expertise on disability or welfare:

“Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘Taxpayers will be very concerned that so many fit and well people have been receiving incapacity benefit on top of other generous allowances’” (Express, 2010)

“Emma Boon of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: ‘Sickness benefit is meant to be there as a safety net and taxpayers hate to see the system abused. This report shows why it is important that the welfare system is reformed and tightened up, so that it is harder for people to make false claims. Taxpayers will be shocked that they are forking out more than almost any other Western country. Those who cheat the system are a disgrace and should face heavy penalties’” (Mail, 2010)

“Matthew Sinclair, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘Britain cannot ignore the huge rise in disability benefit claimants. About 560,000 claimants are to be reassessed. An estimated 330,000 will get nothing or a reduced sum as a result’” (Express, 2012).

“Matthew Sinclair, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘Britain cannot ignore the huge rise in the number of people claiming disability benefit. Welfare is there to help the most vulnerable but for too long it simply consigned people to a life on benefits regardless of what they were capable of. Reforms must ensure that help is available to get those who can work into employment, while ensuring the whole system remains affordable to taxpayers” (Mail, 2012 – note the different wording to the Express’s quote).

Unreflective claims about Work Capability Assessments:

“The figures show the outcome of “work capability assessment” tests on people who applied for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which replaced Incapacity Benefit in 2008” (Express, 2010).

“Some 2.6million in the UK are on incapacity benefit, and of these, one million have been claiming for a decade. Hundreds of thousands more are on other handouts such as disability living allowance and disability-related income support. The coalition has promised to reassess all claimants, with initial indications that up to 75 per cent of them are fit to work” (Mail, 2010)

“A record 3.2 million Britons claim some form of disability benefit…About 560,000 claimants are to be reassessed. An estimated 330,000 will get nothing or a reduced sum as a result.” (Express, 2012)[7]

“All claimants will have to undergo a medical check – which does not happen in about half cases at the moment” (Mail, 2012).

Fixation on the putative cost to Taxpayers, without acknowledging that most disabled people work; or that disabled people are themselves taxpayers

“The problem is a massive drain on Britain with the total incapacity benefit bill adding up to some £12.5billion a year” (Express, 2010)

“Taxpayers will be shocked that they are forking out more than almost any other Western country” (Mail, 2010)

“Taxpayers shell out about £13billion a year even though three quarters of new incapacity benefits claimants can work”[8] (Express, 2012)

“A record 3.2million people in Britain claim Disability Living Allowance – at a cost to taxpayers of more than £13billion a year” (Mail, 2012).

Implications that large numbers of  people in receipt of disability support are making fraudulent claims:

“The findings reveal the culture of dependence created by Labour and suggest that more than two million of the 2.6 million currently claiming incapacity benefit should be at work” (Express, 2010)

“we spend more on incapacity benefits than almost any other nation – flatly contradicting Welfare Minister Chris Grayling who claimed on Tuesday that ‘shirkers and scroungers’ were not a big problem” (Mail, 2010).

“New checks found 55 per cent were no longer eligible and 20 per cent could carry out some form of paid job with the right support.” (Express, 2012)

“Around half a million people on disability benefits stand to lose it all under plans by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith” (Mail, 2012).

So, clearly, despite two-years’ difference between these articles, the claims are fundamentally identical. The formulaic composition indicates what the ulterior concern really is: namely that social security funding for the long-term ill, and the disabled, is deemed by the respective journalists to be too high, and so needs to be reduced by the government. The case both newspapers make rests upon vague allusions to unspecified reports, unsourced data being adduced without providing any context, insinuations that a high proportion of people in receipt of disability funding have made fraudulent claims, and intimations at soaring and unwarranted tax-cost, as outlined by individuals from the same lobby group[9] – one which has absolutely no expertise, at all, on disability support or welfare issues. The agenda of both newspapers and the lobby group is evidently to reduce the amount of social protection the disabled and ill receive.


[1] ‘How Britain Nearly Tops The Global Benefits League’ by Martyn Brown/Daily Express, 26th December 2012: http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/367046/How-Britain-nearly-tops-the-global-benefits-league

[2] ‘Britain leads the world in handing out disability cash: Nation spends twice as much as U.S. and six times as much as Japan’ by Daniel Martin/Daily Mail, 27th December 2012: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2253509/Benefits-Britain-UK-leads-world-doling-disability-cash-spending-twice-U-S-times-Japan.html

[3] See also word-for-word similarities, such as the Express claiming “Sickness and disability made up 12 per cent of UK social spending, the average is 9.2”; while the Mail contended that “Sickness and disability made up 12 per cent of UK social spending. The average across the OECD is 9.2 per cent”. They both end by quoting the Minister for Disabled People, Esther McVey. The quotes are identical in both pieces.

[4] ‘Britain leads the world in handing out disability cash: Nation spends twice as much as U.S. and six times as much as Japan’ by Daniel Martin/Daily Mail, 27th December 2012: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2253509/Benefits-Britain-UK-leads-world-doling-disability-cash-spending-twice-U-S-times-Japan.html

[5] ‘The sick man of Europe: UK tops chart for number of young people off work claiming incapacity benefit’ by James Martin/Daily Mail, 25th November 2010: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1332622/UK-tops-chart-number-young-people-work-claiming-incapacity-benefit.html

‘Benefits Britain Exposed’ by Alison Little/Daily Express, 1st February 2010: http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/155413/Benefits-Britain-exposed

[6] Quite how the Express arrived at this figure of 68% being found fit for work will have to remain speculative, but the actual designation of ‘fit for work’ was consistently 39% during this period, as indicated by the DWP’s statistical releases. The Express author was possibly conflating the numbers of people considered healthy, with those put in the Work Related Activity Group – and ignoring the high rate of successful appeals against initial decisions. But it is not clear – as the Express presumably intended. See “For all new ESA Claims from 27th October 2008 to 30th November 2010, the result of the initial WCA is as follows…Fit for Work – 39%” (p. 2) in ‘Employment And Support Allowance: Work Capability Assessment By Health Condition And Functional Impairment’ by Department For Work And Pensions, July 2011: http://research.dwp.gov.uk/asd/workingage/esa_wca/esa_wca_26072011.pdf

For an analysis of how the media was distorting these data releases, see ‘Three quarters of ESA claimants fit for work?’ by Owen Spottiswoode/Full Fact, 28th April 2011: http://fullfact.org/factchecks/employment_support_allowance_incapacity_benefit_fit_for_work-2677

[7] It’s worth considering here that these assessments are yet to be undertaken; but the Express confidently predicts that 330,000 people will have their social protection stopped or reduced. It is parroting another article published by the Mail, on 13th December, which asserts that:

“Ministers intend to reassess an initial 560,000 claimants, and expect that 330,000 – nearly 60 per cent – will get no award or a reduced sum after the checks” in ‘Disability handouts to be cut or stopped for 330,000 claimants as Government aims to end “welfare for life”‘ by James Chapman/Daily Mail, 13 December 2012: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2247290/Disability-handouts-cut-stopped-330-000-claimants-Government-aims-end-welfare-life.html

[8] This is a distortion of the figures. The Express has been reported to the Press Complaints Commission previously for making this claim, which clearly has done nothing to dissuade it from making misleading use of  this data. See ‘Full Fact goes to PCC after incapacity benefit factcheck’ by Patrick Casey/Full Fact, 21st February 2011: http://fullfact.org/blog/incapacity_benefit_fit_to_work_pcc_complaint-2511

[9] The Taxpayer’s Alliance is reputed to be a lobby group, which acts on behalf of big business. It has received high amounts of funding from the Midlands Industrial Council – wealthy business owners, who also donate significant sums of money to the Conservative Party. The Taxpayer’s Alliance supposedly also colluded with one of The Sun’s topless models, to make its case against energy taxes. See

‘Who is behind the Taxpayers’ Alliance?’ by Robert Booth/Guardian, 9th October 2009:   http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/oct/09/taxpayers-alliance-conservative-pressure-group

See also ‘A closer look at the TaxPayers’ Alliance’ by Steven Harkins/SpinWatch, 31st May 2012: http://www.spinwatch.org/-articles-by-category-mainmenu-8/48-lobbying/5503-a-closer-look-at-the-taxpayers-alliance-

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