Rather a lot of hacks seem content to take the press releases from Tory Party chairman Grant “Spiv” Shapps at face value nowadays: as I noted yesterday, the claim that 900,000 were ceasing to claim sickness benefit was easily explained by the amount of churn in the claimant numbers: over 36% of the total comes off the benefit each quarter.
You bought a used car from him?!?
Now, thanks to Steve Walker’s excellent Skwawkbox Blog, we find that the other reason advanced for the “900,000” figure, the change from Incapacity Benefit (IB) to Employment Support Allowance (ESA), is also blatantly untrue. This has also been trumpeted by the not-nearly-as-saintly-as-he’d-like-you-to-believe Iain Duncan Cough.
“Spiv” and Cough have, in concert with one another, conned the Fourth Estate into believing both figure and timing, with Shapps telling “These figures demonstrate how the welfare system was broken under Labour and why our reforms are so important”. But, as Walker has discovered, the figure dates from 2009, when ESA replaced IB. And the actual figure is 878,300.
Yes, the “900,000” reduction in disability benefit claimants came when, according to “Spiv” Shapps, “the welfare system was broken”. It was so badly broken that he is more than willing to use its terrible failure to bolster his own position and pull a fast one with a compliant press pack. And that’s the real disgrace here: that the media have failed to hold politicians to account.
To see this supine obedience in action, one need look no further than the Daily Mail, where political editor James Chapman tells “Just one in eight on sickness benefit is truly too ill to work: Almost a million drop benefits claim to avoid new test” [my emphasis]. The demonisation of claimants is reinforced by suggesting that many are citing blisters or acne as reasons for disability.
And where the Mail goes, the Express can be found dutifully toddling along behind: “900k drop claims as benefit reforms bite”. The typically lazy journalism continued with news that the Government “released Whitehall figures yesterday showing that nearly 900,000 people on incapacity benefit dropped their payment claims rather than undergo a tough new medical test”.
I’ve previously observed how the tabloids have become incapable of doing investigative journalism, depending on the upmarket titles and broadcasters to do the work for them, then piling in behind with cheaper (and clearly lazy) punditry. The lame churnalism awarded to “Spiv” Shapps and Duncan Cough only serves to underscore this. And these are the papers trumpeting press freedom.
That would be the freedom to become Government stooges. Pass the sick bag.