As Olympics gives way to Paralympics, the enthusiasm of the media has apparently carried over, with much coverage given to yesterday’s medal winners. While that’s only to be expected, the contrast between the sports coverage and those same papers’ attitude towards the disabled generally could not be more stark. For starters, there’s that cycling gold won by Sarah Storey.
Ms Storey doesn’t have a functioning left hand. This is something you can clearly see close up, but if you saw her out and about in town doing her shopping, you might well miss. She has a disability, and many others live with this kind of condition. But in a society where the same newspapers that are now heaping on the praise are often heaping on abuse instead, this can get forgotten.
It should not be forgotten that the Mail and Sun, two papers that are extracting as much in sales as they can from the Paralympics, have the most shameful record when it comes to demonising the disabled. These were, after all, the two titles that went after the Motability scheme last year, giving their readers the impression that it was a £1.4 billion “vast scam” and gave out “free cars”.
And what's f***ing wrong with shopping them, c***?!?
This all hardened attitudes towards disabled people, with many suffering abuse just because they “didn’t look to be really disabled”. Just because those using reserved parking spaces don’t have to use a wheelchair, don’t have a guide dog, or don’t need a walking stick or frame doesn’t mean they don’t merit using them. But the constant barrage of “disabled cheat” stories fuels prejudice against them.
That barrage included the wilful misinformation by the Mail – reinforced by a largely fictitious column from the Million Pound Pundit Richard Littlejohn – about Motability cars being “given” to sufferers of AD/HD disorder, which was held to be nothing more than naughty children who could not keep still in class. Yes, don’t bother finding out the facts, shop those Motability users to the DWP sharpish.
It didn’t get any better as the new year dawned, with the Sun going after a retired couple from Nottingham for claiming universal benefit even after winning the lottery. Their house was pictured too, just to help the nutters find them, as was their Motability car, which was “shiny and new and handed to them free”. That the Prime Minister has also claimed universal benefits while well-off did not enter.
But all this is forgotten as the Paralympics bring more medals and more triumph over adversity. Yes, for a fortnight, the cheaper end of the Fourth Estate has stopped sending its attack dogs after the most vulnerable members of society in order to get with the national mood and – to no surprise at all – flog a few more papers. But after that, woe betide any Paralympian who crosses the press and then claims benefits.
This hypocrisy shows tabloid hackery in its true light. And it’s not good enough.