Scope publishes open letter in response to destructive disability narrative

Scope responds to recent media coverage and debate around disability benefits.

This past week has seen a number of incendiary headlines, debates and articles about the worth and motivations of disabled people in this country.

Coverage has targeted people on out-of-work disability benefits, calling them ‘lazy’ and ‘a burden on taxpayers'. It's been suggested that spend on benefits is something ‘needing to be cracked down on’.

This destructive narrative – that poverty and disability are caused by poor life choices - is wrong. In fact, it could not be further from the truth.

How this narrative impacts disabled people

The impact on disabled people’s sense of self-worth and view of themselves is damaging.

3 in 4 disabled people have experienced negative attitudes, assumptions and behaviour in the last five years. Coverage like this exacerbates the problem, painting disabled people as frauds.

We should be proud that we have a financial safety net in this country. Any one of us may need to make use of it, whether due to ill-health or changes in life circumstances such as losing a job or a loved one. But this safety net barely covers the essentials and almost half of people living in poverty are disabled.

Systemic issues with the welfare system

Recent polling for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Trussell Trust found 66 per cent of the public agree that Universal Credit payment rates are too low. But millions of disabled households have to live off this, because systems and structures are stacked against them.

Some disabled people may never be able to work for no fault of their own. Should this group just be left to fend for themselves?

Many have tried to work but have been written-off time and time again. Many have lost the will to keep trying as our welfare system discourages them from fulfilling ambitions. Benefit sanctions make it harder for people to get jobs, not easier, and employer attitudes on who can work are stuck in the past.

How the media can change the narrative

We want the media, the press, and journalists to report on the failures of our welfare system, to shine a light on the levels of poverty in this country, and to speak to disabled people about what needs to change.

This damaging framing of welfare, benefits, people out of work, and disability misses the point and makes matters worse.

We’d like to see more attention given to:

  • The number of disabled lives lost because of the benefit assessment process.
  • The huge amount of time it can take to access benefits and the impact this has on the lives of disabled people.
  • The fact that many people who claim benefits are in-work.
  • How interacting with the welfare system has led to untold stress, anxiety, fear and poor mental health for disabled people.

These are the real problems facing the welfare system in this country. Writing off millions of people as a burden on taxpayers, through no fault of their own, is a lazy, damaging narrative to peddle. One that writes off the huge contributions and value our diverse disabled population gives to society.

We urge commentators to look beyond tired, out-of-date labels, and to take note instead of the work being done by the likes of the Disability News Service, Project Twist-It and hundreds of others who want to reset the dial on how we view and talk about poverty.

It’s time to go beyond the negative framing and headlines and hear the reality of disabled people’s lives.

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