DWP website now officially a tabloid newspaper

Mon, 26/08/2013 - 13:23 -- nick

The Department for Work and Pensions press site has crossed the line between information provision and tabloid-style reporting.

It has published a press release titled 'Drag artist jailed for benefit fraud' - days after most media outlets picked it up - on the case of Mark Hawthorne, a 49 year old from Staffordshire.

Hawthorne had claimed that he was unable to work for nine years while performing as part of a drag act - the DWP helpfully provides the detail that his stage name was 'Tilly' - and was jailed for 6 months for illegally receiving £88,000.

He was clearly wrong to do so, but the coalition presenting details of individual cases of wrongful claiming is a tabloid trick that it has usually been able to resist.

Governments are supposed to sit above this kind of shoddy manipulation. One of the reasons why polls show that people believe an average of 24% of benefit money is claimed fraudulently when the true figure is only 0.7% is that so many stories of individual abuse of the system are made national news.

Given the small amounts of money usually involved in comparison to, say, tax fraud cases, this isn't the reason why such prominence is given to these stories.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the government and many newspapers are conspiring to manipulate people into supporting a 'small state, low benefits' agenda as a reasonable, moral response to a system in crisis.

Any idea of crisis is an invention: the level of fraud has been going down, not up, but has consistently been less than 1% of the benefit bill for many years.

But in trying to point reporters towards another individual example of misclaimed social security the government may have shown its hand too transparently.

This naked attempt to present a tabloid-friendly story, using the full machinery of government to demonise a single person, makes too clear the link between media and coalition in pursuing the anti-welfare state agenda.

The only question is whether the late release of information is the result of incompetence or a deliberate attempt to lengthen the natural lifespan of a story.

Either way, those who have been dismissed as conspiract theorists for their belief in the government/media link have new evidence to present.

UnemployedNet promotes a media campaign to improve the presentation of worklessness and benefits.

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