Wednesday 26 January 2011

PCC Complaint Against the Daily Mail

Having further considered the option open to us, The Broken of Britain has decided to complain to the PCC about the Daily Mail's article, mentioned in the previous post.

The complain reads as follows:

"400,000 'were trying it on' to get sickness benefits: 94% of incapacity benefits of work" Daily Mail, 26 January 2010

The Daily Mail has exaggerated the latest figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on the processing of claims for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) to produce this grossly inaccurate headline.

People applying for the ESA have to undergo an assessment of whether they are able to work and the statistics cover the results of this assessment. Contrary to the headline the figures from DWP only relate to Employment and Support Allowance, which replaced Incapacity Benefit in 2008. Roughly two million of the 2.6 million people on incapacity-related benefits are on Incapacity Benefit, not ESA. Thus even if the 94 per cent figure was valid it would cover a relatively small proportion of those claiming benefits having been deemed unable to work. The Department for Work and Pensions is currently 'migrating' Incapacity Benefit claimants onto ESA and estimates that when they have completed the 1.5 million assessments 23 per cent of these people will be fit for work - not 94%.

The Daily Mail claims that those found 'fit for work' were "trying it on". Since ESA was introduced 396,000 of those assessed have been categorised in this way. However it is important to note that up to November 2009 33 per cent had appealed this decision, and in 40 per cent of cases a tribunal sided with the claimant. This resulted in 13 per cent of those found fit for work being changed.

The Daily Mail also uses the phrase 'trying it on' in relation to those who withdrew their application before an assessment could take place. The Harrington Review of the Work Capability Assessment completed for DWP actually found that one significant reason for withdrawal of claims was the improved health of the claimant. Given that DWP has previously said that it takes on average three months between a claim being made and an assessment taking place, this seems like enough time for a change in circumstances that would see claims withdrawn.

This 94% figure given in the article is based on results that show that 6 per cent of all those who applied for ESA were placed in the Support Group, where they receive ESA payments and are not required to engage with Pathways for Work. A further 16 per cent of applicants (or 25 per cent of those actually assessed) were placed in the Work-Related Activity Group – those who received ESA who are required to participate in Pathways to Work.

The Daily Mail arrives at the 94 per cent figure is by counting the 16 per cent of applicants who pass into the Work-Related Activity Group as 'fit for work' even by the Government’s own definition, such people are not deemed currently fit for work. This is a clear manipulation of the facts in order to produce a highly misleading headline.

The article resulted in this column by Harry Phibbs on the newspaper's website, drawing upon the same misleading data to make wild assumptions about benefits claimants which should also be subject to investigation under the same clauses of the Code of Practice.

The complaint is made on the grounds of these breaches of the Code:

1. Accuracy i) misleading and distorted information, ii) significant inaccuracy (multiple) and iii) not distinguishing clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
3. Harassment i) of disabled benefits claimants
12. Discrimination i) against disabled people

Readers are free to copy this post in order to submit their own complaint to the PCC.


Beatrice said...

You have a difficulty here. The Press Complaints Commission deals with complaints against named individuals. The Mail article does not seem to name anyone in this particular article so I am not sure that the Press Complaints Commission is the right route for Broken of Britain in this particular case.

This does not stop people from going to the Press Complaints Commission. Mass complaints about general grievences happen in droves but if you want a PCC ruling you need to lodge a complaint which fits within the rules.

I currently have a disability discrimination complaint up before the commission so I speak with a little experience. In my first complaint to the PCC I was not the named subject of an attack and the PCC threw it out. I was new to the game. Having learned that much I knew I could go to the PCC when I was named and abused directly in the Guardian's web site. I tried very hard to settle with the Guardian and I had some success. It is helpful if you try and reach some kind of accommodation with the paper before going to the PCC. The PCC is meant to be a court of last resort.

If Broken of Britain wishes to take issue with general arguments in the Mail I suspect you will have to do it in the same way as any other lobby group. Put your points direct to the journalists who write the stories.

Good luck.

Jan said...

To be fair, I think one could argue that it is libellous towards anyone who has been found wrongly fit to work and won their case at appeal, so there are specific people in that respect. Great work, anyway.

yellinthedark said...

I think it is also worth pointing out that moderated comments suggesting the sick should be hanged or otherwise 'put down' were passed for publication online. If that doesn't come under the remit of disability discrimination I don't know what does. It's frightening.

Remember that the Daily Mail moderates comments (I posted criticising the article but it was never published). To allow such blatantly hateful posts surely reflects editorial policy?

Extranea said...

Excellent post, I wish you the best of luck. We are being attacked not only by new assessment procedures to save money but some aspects of the media with a horrible political agenda.

Patrick said...

The PCC may be able to help, despite the lack of a named individual.

Full Fact followed up erroneous stories on Special Needs Education, with the PCC.

The errors were based on figures from Ofsted, not an individual, and after 4 months both Telegraph and Mail printed corrections.

It just takes a lot of persuasion!

Beatrice said...

I see some of you were reluctant to believe me when I said that the Press Complaints Commission Editors' Code of Practice was designed to cater for individuals rather than groups.

Take a look at Section 12 of the PCC Code. This is the section that deals with discrimination:

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

This section of the PCC code does enable those with an individual grievance about a story in which they have been named but as you will see from the wording it is not designed to offer a chance for people to seek a remedy because they belong to a slighted group.

In other words I cannot win a case because a journalist made a pejorative remark about another person's mental illness. Everyone who knows me knows I have a mental illness but in law and under the PCC rules that is not sufficient grounds for a case based on an accusation against another person.

I simply cannot argue for a positive PCC ruling because I feel slighted about a general remark.

I know Patrick has cited a case which contradicts what I have to say here. I suggest this is an unusual case. As I understand the PCC's main body of work involves individual complainants.

Libel law is different in quite a few respects to the PCC code but again it has this concept that you have to be named or referred to in a direct and recognisable manner.

That is not to say you cannot argue back. What I am saying is that it is best in more general cases to argue direct with journalists. Learn to play them at their own game.

There can be real advantages in dealing with the news media direct. You can get your message in quickly. If you go to the PCC or to the libel courts you may have to wait for a long time for your case to be heard and the outcome is not predictable. Act now and you may see your point in print or on screen with a matter of hours.

Catherine Hughes said...

As you know, I took a complaint to the PCC regarding the DM - and failed completely. In my most recent correspondence with them, they insist the piece I complained about was accurate, even though it reported me as having said things I have never and would never say.

I think you are right to try. But the PCC is not interested in standing up against endemic discimination against disabled people because, if it did so, many of its member publications would be left with nothing to say.