Disabled people increasingly believe that coverage of welfare reform and other disability issues in national newspapers is helping to fuel hate crime, according to a new report.
Disability Rights UK (DR UK), which published the report this week, called on the press and the government to change the language they use to describe disabled people.
Many of the 331 people who responded to a survey for the DR UK report – most of whom were disabled people – blamed rising hostility towards them on “government spin and distortion” and “rhetoric from the government about scroungers and benefit cheats”.
And nearly every one of them (97 per cent) thought reporting of disability should have been a key topic in the Leveson inquiry into press standards.
More than nine in ten linked the negative portrayal of disabled people in the press to rising hostility and hate crime towards disabled people, and an even higher percentage believed the national press were unfair in their portrayal of welfare and other disability equality issues.
More than four in ten suggested the government was responsible for rising press negativity and hostility towards disabled people.
One disabled respondent told how – after a headline about “free” Motability cars for disabled people – their car was vandalised. They have not displayed their blue parking badge since, and have been “yelled at, sworn at and insulted” and had their crutches kicked.
Following articles calling disabled benefit claimants “scroungers”, another respondent said: “I was followed by a group of youths in the street and called ‘a scrounging disabled bastard’.”
One said that “daily hounding in the press” had “made me feel suicidal”, another that coverage in the Sun had “made me feel like I was an outcast”, while another said reports in the Daily Mail, Sun and Daily Mirror “makes me feel scared to go out”.
Yet another who replied to the survey said coverage in the Daily Express, Daily Mail and the Sun “completely devalued and totally undermine my efforts to live as fully and independently as possible”.
The report, Press Portrayal of Disabled People: A Rise in Hostility Fuelled by Austerity?, calls on the government’s Office for Disability Issues to play a bigger part in shaping how the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) communicates with the media and the public.
Neil Coyle, DR UK’s director of policy and campaigns, said: “The report shows that disabled people believe the government agenda has driven the hostile press coverage. It is hard to disagree that that is likely to be the case.”
He added: “It is important that the government improves how it communicates on some of the welfare changes, how it talks about disabled people.”
He said the ODI – which is part of the DWP – was the right body to lead that work because of its cross-government role.
A DWP spokeswoman denied the government was responsible for rising press negativity and hostility towards disabled people, and pointed to Challenge it, Report it, Stop it, its new hate crime action plan, which “includes challenging the attitudes that drive hate crime”.
She said: “We are very conscious of the language we in government use, as it’s clear that the benefit system itself has trapped many people in a spiral of welfare dependency.”
She said a key area of the government’s forthcoming disability strategy would be “promoting positive attitudes and behaviours towards disabled people to enable them to participate in community life and wider society, tackling discrimination and harassment wherever they occur”.