Disability benefit review does not need sensationalist headlines

A newspaper editor once told his reporters: “Don’t worry about the facts, give me the sensation.” Sounds far-fetched, right? But, it’s true. I know as I was there, I was one of those reporters.

That editor used headlines like “Women scream as ….” to sell newspapers. He was not so much a journalist as a sensationalist. He was more interested in the bottom line of the financial accounts than the truth.

The truth, however, is crucial. It is what journalists live by, and what everyone (readers, viewers, and listeners) deserves to receive.

I was reminded of that sensationalist editor this week when various parts of the media pounced on a government decision and exploited people’s fears. In particular, it fed the fears of recipients of a key disability benefit.

It all surrounds the decision of UK works and pensions secretary Esther McVey not to challenge a court decision. Judges had decided that her ministry had acted wrongly in how it dealt with personal independence payment (PIP). I reported this decision on January 20.

 Following the decision not to challenge the court ruling, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) now has a duty to review the cases of certain claimants. This is to ensure that they have been given a high enough award, and to correct any it finds are wrong.

Instead, the DWP announced plans to review ALL the PIP claims. Now, I am not a fan of this government or the DWP, but I think that this is being thorough. Hopefully, it will all turn out well.

Some elements of the media have fed on the fears of some claimants that the review will mean they may face re-assessments, with all the stress they entail.

Sensationalist ‘terror’ headline

Just one headline that went straight for sensation was published on Thursday. It read: “Disabled people’s response to PIP review: STARK TERROR”. The terror was real, although caused by an uncorrected misapprehension.

You see, the DWP had already said that no disabled people will have their benefits reduced because of its decision to review 1.6 million PIP claims.

The Disability News Service reported:


Sarah Newton MP, minister for people with disabilities.

Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, announced this wee that, following McVey’s decision not to appeal the court ruling, DWP would review every one of the 1.6 million PIP claims that have been made since the benefit was introduced in 2013 to see how many had been wrongly assessed and were now entitled to backdated PIP payments.

The review will include all those previously found ineligible for the benefit after being assessed by DWP and its contractors, Atos and Capita.

The cost of implementing the court judgement is estimated to be up to £3.7 billion over the next five years.

Newton announced the review on Monday in a written answer to a question from Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, Debbie Abrahams.

Newton said the following day – in response to an urgent question from shadow disability minister Marsha de Cordova – that no-one would see their benefits reduced as a result of the review.

So, free of any sensationalist: YES there is a review, but NO reassessments. YES, some are likely to receive increased benefit payments, but there will be NO reductions in benefit.

If that is all true, and it seems to be, there is no cause for alarm or terror.  But, can we rely on the DWP and its ministers to speak the truth? That is another matter entirely. Only time will tell.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor and cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues and consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.


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