Auntie isn't looking after the weakest

By Bernadette Meaden
July 10, 2012

In their hour of greatest need, the most vulnerable are being let down by the mainstream media, and particularly our national publicly funded broadcaster.

For some time the inadequate coverage of the impact of cuts on the weakest members of society has been a cause for concern. There are really only two ways of explaining this. It could be a grand conspiracy, whereby the media and the government are all in it together, to keep the public uninformed and thereby minimise opposition to their policies. A case might theoretically be made for this, especially when one considers the BBC. Its Chairman Chris Patten is a former Chairman of the Conservative Party, and political editor Nick Robinson was Chairman of the Oxford University Conservative Association.

But the truth is probably more mundane, and really more depressing. It seems that even those working on a flagship news programme, like Radio 4’s Today programme, which often sets the political agenda for the day, are woefully ill-informed about what is happening in the real world outside of Westminster/media circles.

Last week on Today, John Humphrys did an interview with Jonathan Portes from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, about ‘In the Eye of The Storm’, a report highlighting the way children from vulnerable families are bearing the brunt of the cuts.

Mr Humphrys was incredulous, repeating the line that, whilst everyone knows cuts are being made, they are being carefully targeted to protect the most vulnerable. He wasn’t playing Devil’s advocate, to elicit more from his interviewee, he was genuinely and completely ignorant of the impact of cuts on poor families, especially those with disabled children. Jonathan Portes was obviously surprised by this ignorance, and wrote about it later.

It’s worrying that prestigious news broadcasters are so out of touch, because the fact is that the government is not just making ill-judged cuts and inadvertently causing suffering to the poorest and weakest. They are actively pursuing specific policies which can cause suffering to disabled children and their families, with a determination which looks like vindictiveness.

Perhaps the most appalling example of this is the case of the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ and how it affects families of disabled children. Housing Benefit rules now state that two children under 16 of the same gender must share a bedroom. If they don’t, the family is deemed to have a spare bedroom, and loses benefit accordingly. If this means they can’t afford to pay their rent, they may face eviction. The government has fought to ensure that no exceptions can be made, even for a family with a severely disabled child who may need medical equipment in the bedroom and attention during the night.

The courts recently found that this discriminated against disabled people, but the Department for Work and Pensions has decided to appeal against this judgment, effectively fighting for the right to see families with disabled children lose their homes. Perhaps I missed it, but I have heard no mention of this on the BBC

For sick and disabled adults too, the toll is rising, as people die soon after being declared fit for work (their families often claim that the stress of this was the final straw in their deteriorating condition) or even commit suicide having had their benefits removed. There are stories like this up and down the country, but the BBC has so far failed to give them any significant coverage.

It’s said that the public back the cuts and welfare reform, they have given their consent. But if the public is relying on the BBC and other mainstream media for their information, with such inadequate coverage can that be informed consent?

It is quite easy to make a formal complaint to the BBC online. Perhaps if enough people complain about the lack of coverage of the impact of cuts the reality might be reported, and an informed debate will be possible.


© Bernadette Meaden has written about religious, political and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is a regular contributor to Ekklesia.

Keywords:cuts | bbc
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