Mark Easton, the BBC's Home Editor, posted a piece on his blog taking apart last week's DWP attack on us. It's a good, solid article with some actual journalism behind it, considerably better than most coverage out of the BBC in the past fortnight, and points out that the truth is something very considerably different to what the DWP's ministers are trying to have us believe.
But then we get to the comment column, which seems to have been lifted from the Daily Heil and is rife with disablist attacks on disabled benefit claimants. Now remember that the BBC is required to take action against disablism as part of its Public Sector Equality Duty, so surely there's something wrong here? Surely every disablist message is in flagrant breach of the house rules? There are also people like me fighting back, but when I posted a piece to show that Mark's article didn't go far enough, that the deliberate distortion of the truth was far greater than even he had assumed, it vanished into the mists of moderation, not just referred to their normal moderators, but booted up the stack to some sort of uber-moderation. And today they've decided it's 'defamatory' and wiped it entirely.
I talked about 'deliberate distortion of the truth' in the preceding paragraph, but the English language has a shorter term for it, we call it lying, and that's the term I used to sum up what Chris Grayling, the DWP, and Labour before them were doing. And that seems to be where the BBC has a problem. It's easy to demonstrate that the DWP press releases deliberately distort the truth and that they reflect Chris Grayling's deliberate attempts to mislead the public, because he's made exactly the same assaults on us verbally, and that means that my statements are no less than the truth and in the public interest, which therefore cannot be defamation. It is in fact exactly the same conclusion reached by Mark Easton's article. But Auntie Beeb is apparently scared to allow the logical conclusion of its own article to be stated aloud, just as it is scared to enforce its own obligation, both moral and legal, to take a stand against disablism.
So here's that truth that is no longer fit for the BBC, unedited and in my own words:
There's the start of a good article here. I say 'the start' because the reality is even more outrageous than Mark paints it and certainly bears little relation to the twisted 'facts' of the DWP's propaganda -- this is the second four day weekend in a row where they've launched an assault on disabled people, you might almost think they were scared of informed debate...
The truth is that I probably became one of those statistics for withdrawn claims last year. I'm disabled with several different spinal injuries and chronic pain syndrome (and maybe some other stuff -- disability is complicated). When I was finally made redundant, after 4 years of fighting to keep my job and taking my ex-employer to an Employment Tribunal for disability discrimination, I tried claiming JSA, but JCP can't cope with you if you're disabled, can't cope with you if you're highly qualified and god help you if you're both. So in the end, after complaints to ministerial level and abject apologies, JCP asked me to move to ESA.
So I put in my application and laboured through the massive ESA50 form, taking about 9 hours to complete it, and that for someone with considerable writing skills and the ability to explain themselves concisely and clearly. Then came the ATOS WCA assessment. ATOS had been warned in advance that I needed an adjustable chair to have any hope of getting through the assessment, inability to sit for any time, or stand, or sometimes even lie down without severe pain being at the core of my disability, my inability to work and therefore my entire claim. No chair. So we abandoned the assessment at the cost of a wasted trip and considerable pain. But the pain continued to increase even after I got home and I spent the next week not knowing even what day it was, the months after wandering around in a daze from the doubled level of painkillers. In the meantime ATOS called me in for another assessment, but it was months before I was well enough to catch up with my mail and only on receiving a letter four months later telling me my claim had been cancelled was I able to chase through the system and find that ATOS had told DWP I had failed to attend the WCA, carefully omitting to mention their failure to provide the required reasonable adjustment.
Common sense prevailed, with the definite sense from DWP of 'God, not another ATOS cock-up!', and my claim was reinstated. My second WCA was barely better than the first -- the details can be read on Where's the Benefit -- but the ultimate result was that I was placed in the ESA WRAG as clearly not currently fit for work.
And yet for several months, possibly even to this day depending on how the reinstated claim was handled, I would have been one of those statistics for withdrawn claims, supposed evidence of fraudulent intent. It was only my bullheadedness and refusal to give up that got me through, ATOS threw every obstable in my path, and for many disabled people, physically disabled as well as mental, the sheer stress of a claim, the utter contempt for disabled people visible in inaccessible forms, inaccessible centres and the contemptuous manner of the medical professionals will result in claims being withdrawn by people with every right to be placed in the WRAG or even the Support Group.
On top of the claims withdrawn due to the stress placed on claimants, we then need to add those JSA claimants parked onto ESA for a week or two because they are temporarily unable to look for work due to illness, even if they're expected to recover long before the assessment, and certainly not to pass the assessment if their illness lasts that long. Or people in employment who have exhausted SSP but will soon recover. Or people with genuine claims who unexpectedly improve. Or people made redundant for narrowly specific medical reasons, say being medically unfit to hold a PSV license, who are required to file for ESA rather than JSA, even with a disability so narrow that they are guaranteed to fail the WCA, even though there's a good chance of them finding another job before the assessment and withdrawing their claim.
The numbers of withdrawn claims aren't evidence of people attempting to defraud the system, that's Chris Grayling and the DWP (and Labour before them) deliberately lying in order to mislead you. The numbers of withdrawn claims are in fact evidence of the system working precisely as designed. The evidence for this is readily accessible, on disability sides, charity sites, advocacy sites, but the Tory Rags, and now it seems the BBC as well, can't be bothered to do basic research and just run with Grayling's hate-filled spite.
Mark is an honourable exception (though needs to dig a little deeper), but when did journalists lose the ability to do basic research and turn into government propaganda mouthpieces?