The Daily Mail published a less-than-responsible piece of journalism yesterday, detailing the apparent struggles of Norfolk resident Nina Friday, a lady with rheumatoid arthritis, who – according to the story published – is working 35 hours a week and is £300 per month worse-off financially than if she were on the disability benefits she was receiving previously.
The Mail is more than happy to describe Ms Friday as being “disabled”; whilst simulataneously showing pictures of her apparently working her poor sore fingers to the bone all the hours God sends her – photographs that would instantly result in Ms Friday being found “fit-for-work” if brought before the WCA team for means-tested disability payments. The Daily Mail has repeatedly insinuated that people found “fit-to-work” by these deeply flawed assessments are not genuinely disabled at all, and are in fact liars and scroungers of the most irksome ilk (though we know that not to be the case).
They also bring Ms Friday’s status as a mother into prominent position, right in the headline – “Disabled Mother” – right after “Putting others to shame” – the clear implication being that Ms Friday puts other disabled mothers to shame somehow. This is just strange, as Ms Friday’s children (at least the ones mentioned) are adults in their early 20s. While it is certainly true that a mother’s work is never done, science would probably agree that generally the bulk of the hard work is when your offspring aren’t legal adults yet. Ms Friday, according to The Mail, was a long-term, out-of-work, benefits claimant for the twelve years between 2000-2012 – for most of the latter part of her daughters’ lives.
One could start to wonder why the Daily Mail is lionising a mother who spent 12 years out of work claiming disability benefit for a degenerative disease, then promptly within a year of ceasing to claim, found herself fit to work 35 hours a week. They would have to look very closely through the mess of half-truths and outright lies scattered about the piece before they found the key to this particular puzzle. It’s in there, unhelpfully uncapitalised, but it’s in there:
Ms Friday, according to article, is in a relationship with her partner Charley. One can effectively deduce that Charley’s earnings are too high for the couple to qualify for means-tested disability benefits, as The Mail is referring solely to Ms Friday’s money; whereas couples in receipt of means-tested benefits receive those particular benefits jointly, so the Mail would be inaccurate to refer to it as just Ms Friday’s money if that were the case.
But it isn’t. DLA is not means-tested. Millionaires can claim it. Full time students can claim it. A person can claim it irrespective of their partner’s earnings, as long as they have a medically established disability that qualifies them for the extra support. Ms Friday would have qualified for DLA as a person who suffers from rheumatiod arthritis – a condition that can fluctuate and go into remission, but is ultimately a systemic autoimmune disease with a generally not-so-cheery long-term prognosis. With the information The Mail has provided however, it is entirely reasonable to assume that Charley and Ms Friday are too well-off as a couple to be able to receive any further top-ups, as the kids and all possible related benefits (universal or not) have flown the nest.
The maximum amount that a person receiving DLA alone can receive per month is £569. Ms Friday would not currently be entitled to any more benefit for her disability than that, if the Mail’s description of her current financial circumstances is correct. The Mail claims that Ms Friday gets £300 less than that per month – £269, or, £62.07 for… 35 hours of work per week?
This is where the irresponsibilty and misdirection become especially pernicious. The Mail quotes Ms Friday as saying that she has “been told” that she does about 35 hours of work a week. I believe that she does. I don’t however believe that Ms Friday does 35 hours of paid work per week, because the sums do not add up. They have included a website that she runs herself on the list of her five jobs; with no mention as to the time spent on that personal project, and how much it contributes to the 35 hour total given for her worked hours per week. They have not detailed how much of the remaining work (all good, useful stuff) is paid or unpaid. This is important, not because only paid work counts, but because only paid work counts when figuring out whether it is cheaper to be on benefits than in paid work.
This isn’t about any genuine concern for Ms Friday, who could work and claim DLA if she liked, thus rendering the whole dilemma pointless.
This is a very poorly written piece of propaganda designed to prime the readers of the Tory Tabloids into accepting the new, Personal Independence Payment (PIP) as a replacement for DLA – rolling out this April across the country. Now Atos and Capita will be running the same ridiculous, highly contested, maligned-by-medical-professionals-everywhere assessments to see who does and doesn’t qualify – and before a single test has been run by one of their “healthcare professionals”, they’re already aiming for a 20% reduction in the DLA/PIP funding by 2015/16. At least 20% of people found by their GP to have the requisite medical symptoms that should qualify them for DLA/PIP will, the Tories hope, have this extra support cut during this horrible time of economic crisis that disabled people did not cause.
The writer of this piece has used gross misdirection in order to have us believe that DLA payments are higher than the wages a person would earn by working a 35 hour work week, in order to spark the resentment necessary for the public to swallow another round of Atos purges on the sick and disabled. They have tried to make Ms Friday’s story sound as though it is analogous to the stories of those disabled mothers still legally responsible for their children, many of whom are in receipt of means-tested benefits such as ESA, and a substantial proportion of whom do not have resident partners in full time work. Ms Friday’s symptoms clearly do not make active work too much of a problem at this point in time, but it would be dangerous to assume that ‘most cases’ are similar in severity to hers when discussing the overall issue. The Mail has made no nods to such sensitivity, and in doing so has merely shown yet again that its editorial slant lacks social conscience; and that the paper is entirely deserving of the sneers that it so rightfully receives in educated circles.
It’s lies, bollocks and bullshit. Don’t buy it.
UPDATE 13/01/12 – . This piece was taken down by the Mail staff without comment, rewritten and republished on the 12/01/12 The link at the start of my piece has been updated, and will take you to the archived original.
UPDATE 2 13/01/12 – The saga continues…