MPs' committee criticises press over incapacity benefit reporting

26 July 2011

A group of MPs has today echoed Full Fact's criticism of media coverage of issues around incapacity benefit claims.

A report out this morning from the Work and Pensions Select Committee notes that a range of newspapers, both tabloids and 'quality', have featured negative coverage of long-term incapacity benefit claimants.

The problem is, as Full Fact has repeatedly found,that while newspapers are free to take such a line, the coverage has also seen inaccurate uses of official statistics - a point taken up by the report.

The Committee cited the the case whereby data relating to the reassessments of Incapacity Benefit claimants was wrongly reported in the press and, due to Full Fact contacting the Press Complaints Commission, corrections to a number of stories were eventually published.

But it is not only the statistics themselves that the Committee finds fault with, but the tone of the articles.

"Sections of the media routinely use pejorative language, such as "work-shy" or "scrounger", when referring to incapacity benefit claimants. We strongly deprecate this and believe that it is irresponsible and inaccurate," the report states.

It continues: "Portraying the reassessment of incapacity benefit claimants as some sort of scheme to "weed out benefit cheats" shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the Government's objectives."

The Committee, and indeed the Government will have no power to affect change the coverage. However, it is suggested that some Government action can taken to improve the situation by reviewing its commentary on the statistics and the context that is provided.

"The Government should take great care with the language it itself uses and take all possible steps to ensure that context is provided when information about IB claimants found fit for work is released, so that unhelpful and inaccurate stories can be shown to have no basis."

It is welcome to see the Government being pressed on whether more can be done to foster accurate press reporting of the information it produces, something that has implications beyond the issue of Incapacity Benefit.

We look forward to seeing how DWP responds to the Committee's suggestion.

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