Mocking sick and disabled people

By Bernadette Meaden
February 25, 2013

When did sick and disabled people become 'fair game' for mockery in the UK?

Over the last few years the way certain elements of the media have portrayed these sections of the population as ‘scroungers’ and ‘benefit cheats’ has been depressing, but today the Daily Mail reached a new low. In this article dramatic claims were made about the numbers of new claimants for Disability Living Allowance, describing a rush to claim the benefit before new more stringent rules are introduced.

The figures cited in this article require expert checking. They may or may not be accurate. If they aren’t accurate, it will not be the first time that the Daily Mail, in alliance with the Department for Work and Pensions, has been accused of misusing statistics in relation to disability benefits. Here is an example from 2011 when the Disability Benefits Consortium, made up of 30 disability charities, wrote to the Minister for Disabled People, saying:

‘We don't need to remind the department of its Equality Act obligations to not generate stigma, persecution or harassment of disabled people requiring support from the welfare system. However, some disabled people consider the articles which appeared as a direct result of DWP campaign information to have had these effects.’

Even the House of Commons Select Committee on Work and Pensions has had occasion to write to the Department and express concern over the way it has released statistics to newspapers, particularly the Daily Mail and Express, and allowed them to be used in ways that are deeply damaging. Read that letter here.

But in today’s Daily Mail article, perhaps what was particularly offensive was the cartoon. A man sits on a sofa with one shoe and sock off, whilst a woman, presumably his wife says, ‘Yes it’s a bad blister, but a bit of Disability Living Allowance should make it better’

Now for anyone who has not experienced serious illness or disability, it may be difficult to understand just how offensive, hurtful, and potentially harmful this cartoon could be.

Disability Living Allowance is awarded to people who cannot, to a greater or lesser degree, perform everyday activities without support. They may have difficulty getting dressed or bathing, or making a meal. They may have varying degrees of difficulty with mobility, meaning they can’t be involved in society without support. They will probably be experiencing unpleasant symptoms or pain on a regular basis. To suggest that DLA is available for something as trivial as a blister, even as a ‘joke’ in this context, is irresponsible.

Disabled people increasingly face suspicion and hostility from people who think they are having a cushy life on benefits. Cartoons like this only fuel that attitude, and make life harder for people whose lives are already a daily struggle.

Somebody with legal qualifications can decide whether this cartoon breaches any law, but anybody with a sense of decency can see that it is cheap and nasty.


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

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.