Panorama, Dispatches show cruelty of benefit crackdown

By Savi Hensman
August 1, 2012

The UK government’s harsh treatment of sick and disabled people claiming welfare benefits has largely been backed by the media, with some exceptions. This has helped fuel increasing hostility to disabled people from the public. But, unusually, in late July, two prime-time television documentaries exposed the bizarre tests used to falsely find people ‘fit for work’, and the human cost to claimants and their families.

On 30 July, Dispatches on Channel 4, and Panorama on BBC, investigated the ‘work capability assessment’ carried out by private company Atos on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions, on people seeking employment and support allowance. The findings add to the vast amount of evidence that the system is unfit for purpose, as even the severely ill and dying (including those who have paid National Insurance for many years) are all too often told to get a job.

The shame and discomfort of some of these health professionals administering a system at odds with their values was revealed. The hollowness of government claims that targets for rejecting benefit claims are not given to assessors were also exposed: they are constantly audited to make sure that they do not declare too many people unfit for work.

The following day, the Guardian reported that DWP minister Chris Grayling – seen on Panorama denying that there were any targets – had apparently tried to censor an information video by Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service on making an appeal. The ancient words of the prophet Isaiah seem appropriate:

Woe to those
who enact unjust decrees,
who compose oppressive legislation
to deny justice to the weak
and to cheat the humblest of my people of fair judgement
(Isaiah 10,1-2, New Jerusalem Bible)

The injustice with which many sick and disabled people are being treated has been written about extensively, occasionally in the mainstream media but more often in blogs and publications by disabled people, human rights activists and anti-poverty campaigners. Whether these broadcasts in late July indicate greater media willingness to question government claims on welfare, or whether coverage will again sink to the previous levels, remains to be seen.

‘Britain on the Sick’, Dispatches, Channel 4, is available on
‘Disabled or Faking It?’, Panorama, BBC, is on


(c) Savi Hensman is a regular and widely published Christian commentator on public, political and religious issues. She works in the care and equalities sector, and she is an Ekklesia associate.

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