Inclusion London commissioned the Glasgow Media Group and the Strathclyde Centre for Disability Research to carry out a study to analyse changes in the way the media are reporting disability and how it has impacted on public attitudes towards disabled people. In carrying out the study they compared and contrasted media coverage of disability in five papers in 2010-11 with a similar period in 2004-5 and ran a series of focus groups. The study found:
- There has been a significant increase in the reporting of disability in the print media with 713 disability related articles in 2004-5 compared to 1015 in a comparable period in 2010-11. This increase has been accompanied by a shift in the way that disability is being reported and there is now increased politicisation of media coverage of disability in 2010-11 compared to 2004-5;
- There has been a reduction in the proportion of articles which describe disabled people in sympathetic and deserving terms, and stories that document the ‘real life’ experiences of living as a disabled person have also decreased. Some impairment groups are particularly less likely to receive sympathetic treatment: people with mental health conditions and other ‘hidden’ impairments were more likely to be presented as ‘undeserving’.
- Articles focusing on disability benefit and fraud increased from 2.8% in 2005/5 to 6.1% in 2010/11. When the focus groups were asked to describe a typical story in the newspapers on disability benefit fraud was the most popular theme mentioned.
- These articles are impacting on people’s views and perceptions of disability related benefits. The focus groups all claimed that levels of fraud were much higher than they are in reality, with some suggesting that up to 70% of claimants were fraudulent. Participants justified these claims by reference to articles they had read in newspapers.
- This strength of fraud as a tabloid theme conflicts with the reality of levels of incapacity benefit fraud and focuses public perceptions of responsibility for Incapacity Benefit levels on claimants rather than problems in lack of labour market demand, economic policies or discrimination.
- There has been an increase in the number of articles documenting the claimed ‘burden’ that disabled people are alleged to place on the economy – with some articles even blaming the recession itself on incapacity benefit claimants;
- Articles that explore the political and socioeconomic context of disability are rare as are articles that explore the impact that the proposed cuts will have on disabled people. There was a decrease in references to discrimination against disabled people or other contextualising issues;
- There has been a significantly increased use of pejorative language to describe disabled people, including suggestions that life on incapacity benefit had become a ‘Lifestyle Choice’. The use of terms such as ‘scrounger’, ‘cheat’ and ‘skiver’ was found in 18% of tabloid articles in 2010/11 compared to 12% in 2004/5. There were 54 occurrences of these words in 2004/5 compared to 142 in 2010/11. These changes reinforced the idea of disabled claimants as ‘undeserving’.
- Disabled people are feeling threatened by the changes in the way disability is being reported and by the proposed changes to the their benefits and their benefit entitlements. These two are combining and reinforcing each other.
Get the full report here: bad news for disabled people