16 September 2008
Benefits and Work has received a letter of apology from the editor of the Mail on Sunday following an article published in that paper accusing us “selling cynical tips on how to squeeze the most disability benefit from the Government –for £95 a time” and suggesting that the site was for “scroungers”.
The story appeared in the Mail on Sunday on 6 July and caused considerable outrage to our members. There was also considerable anger here at Benefits and Work, both at the attack on us and at the utterly shameful allegation that our members are dishonest and undeserving of their benefits. The article was also reported on by other news outlets, including BBC TV and radio. Following its publication attempts were also made to get a spokesperson from the site to appear on a Trevor McDonald Tonight special on benefit fraud where, we suspected, we would have received very hostile treatment.
However, Benefits and Work set its very own rotweiller in lipstick – Holiday Whitehead (her own description, not mine, honest) - onto the Mail on Sunday. Very vigorous representations were made to the Press Complaints Commission about numerous inaccuracies in the article and its central charge that the site was for scroungers. As a result, and after some negotiation, the Mail on Sunday agreed to permanently remove the article from its website and provide a letter of apology signed by the editor of the paper.
The Mail on Sunday insisted, however, that the apology could only be provided if we did not publish the letter. We leave it to the imagination of our members as to why the paper would not wish its apology to be published.
The fact of the agreement has, however, been posted on the Press Complaints Commission website.
As a direct result of the Mail on Sunday coverage the number of new subscribers to the site doubled on the day the article went out and was around 50% higher on the following day.
One new member who had been led to us by the Mail on Sunday wrote:
“What can I say? A few weeks ago I received a letter from the DWP asking for permission to get in touch with my Doctor, which obviously I gave,
“Ten days later I got this huge booklet from them asking me to fill it in. I was completely thrown I had never seen this before because when I first went sick I was told I was dying with Lung Cancer, so a very kind lady from Welfare Rights got some forms and sent them in for me. I had no idea what it was. The next thing was I received a letter telling me I would receive the highest payment for disability, this was October 2000.
“So when I got this booklet I felt like dying, without this DLA I would be out on the streets. I had no idea where to go to get the right information and the form done so that I could maintain my benefit. That particular morning I was reading an article in the Mail on Sunday about your site, I went onto my computer straight away, after some time I paid my money and started downloading all the information I could find on your site. I did send you an e-mail about some advice which you wrote back immediately, thank you. I set about your printed information made loads of notes in all it took nearly 4 weeks.
“I sent this back to them and I was totally astounded to get a reply within 10 days informing me that my DLA would stay the same.
“So thank you all very much for the information.
So, from Trevor and all the other new members who found the site and got the benefits they are entitled to, many thanks Mail on Sunday.