At least three disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) plan to submit evidence to a major inquiry to draw its attention to how some newspapers are stirring up hostility towards disabled people.
The Leveson Inquiry was set up to examine the role of the press and the police in the wake of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, with the first part of the inquiry examining the culture, practices and ethics of the media.
Disabled activists have repeatedly criticised newspapers like the Daily Mail for publishing offensive, disablist and inaccurate stories about disability benefits, particularly incapacity benefit, employment and support allowance and disability living allowance.
Now the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC), Inclusion London and the Disability Hate Crime Network (DHCN) are all set to submit evidence to the inquiry.
Jaspal Dhani, chief executive of UKDPC, said: “Now the media are under the spotlight it is a fantastic opportunity for us to raise our concerns about how they are portraying disabled people.”
He said there was strong anecdotal evidence that disabled people were facing an increase in targeted hostility and hate crime as a result of stories that have been published in newspapers such as the Daily Mail.
He said: “When you look at the hostility and verbal abuse about people being ‘workshy’ and ‘scroungers’, where would people get those messages from?
“I think it is pretty safe to assume that a lot of those messages arise from certain sections of the press. Those kinds of messages have to influence people’s thinking.”
UKDPC is hoping other DPOs will contact it with newspaper stories they have found inaccurate, hostile and offensive.
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said she hoped to submit joint evidence to the inquiry, alongside other campaigning organisations.
The evidence is likely to draw the inquiry’s attention to the government’s failure to counter “outrageous, inaccurate and hostile reporting” by some newspapers, and how some Department for Work and Pensions press releases appear to have contributed to those stories.
Lazard said there was a clear link between the press coverage and a rise in hostility, and added: “When we meet disabled people they are saying that the climate is significantly worse, they are far more fearful of how they are perceived.”
Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of DHCN, which also plans to submit evidence to the inquiry, said: “We have continually been told that the language that has been used about disabled people is demeaning and damaging, and it is a continual drip-feed of harassment.”
He said it was clear that some of the hostility facing disabled people “has originated through the papers”.
DPOs can email scans of newspaper articles or internet links to firstname.lastname@example.org or send them by post to Jaspal Dhani, UKDPC, Stratford Advice Arcade, 107-109 The Grove, Stratford, London E15 1HP.