Bad News for Disabled People – report reveals extent of media misrepresentation

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Bad News for Disabled People – report reveals extent of media misrepresentation

A new study of how media are reporting disability in the context of government spending cuts reveals a major shift in how disabled people are portrayed and the negative impact this is having on public attitudes and on disabled people themselves.


The research found a fall in coverage that described disabled people in sympathetic and deserving terms and an increase in the number of articles focussing on disability benefit fraud, which was the theme typically mentioned by focus groups.

The report, entitled ‘Bad News for Disabled People: how newspapers are reporting disability’, analysed 2,276 print articles in a variety of tabloid and broadsheet newspapers and also analysed findings from focus groups. The research was conducted by the Strathclyde Centre for Disability Research and Glasgow Media Group, and commissioned by Inclusion London. It provides compelling evidence for use by disabled people in making a case for more balanced media coverage and for changes in both government policy and in how policies are communicated and impact.

The report found:

  • A significant increase in the reporting of disability in the print media,
  • A reduction in the proportion of articles which describe people in sympathetic and deserving terms, and a fall also in stories that document ‘real life’ experiences of living as a disabled person, with people with mental health issues and other ‘hidden’ impairments more likely to be presented as ‘undeserving’,
  • An increase in articles focusing on disability benefit fraud from 2.8% in 2004/5 to 6.1% in the recent period, despite such fraud being extremely low. When focus groups were asked to describe a typical story in the newspapers, disability fraud was the most common theme,
  • A significant increase in the use of pejorative language to describe disabled people. The use of terms such as ‘scrounger’, ‘cheat’ and ‘skiver’ was found in 18 per cent of articles in 2010/11 compared to 12 per cent in 2004/5,
  • An increase in articles portrayal disabled people as a ‘burden’ on the economy – with some articles even blaming the recession on incapacity benefit claimants,
  • That this coverage is impacting on people’s perceptions: focus groups all claimed that levels of fraud were much higher than they are in reality, with some suggesting up to 70 per cent of claimants were fraudulent. They justified these claims by reference to article they had read in newspapers,
  • Disabled people are feeling threatened by the way disability is being reported as well as by proposed changes to benefits – with the two combining and reinforcing each other.

You can download the report in PDF or Word format from the column on the right hand side.