I'm increasingly baffled by the Daily Express and its editor Hugh Whittow. He appears to have three main preoccupations: 1) the death of Princess Diana 2) exaggerated weather forecasts and 3) hatred of all benefits claimants. If he could get all three into one story he would no doubt be delighted.
That hatred of people who claim benefits - and "hatred" really is not too strong a word - is now descending into lies calculated to make targets out of the sick, the disabled and the unemployed. There are writers (I won't call them journalists) on the paper who are happy to cobble stories which are becoming increasingly bizarre.
Take Alison Little and Jan Disley. They produced a piece yesterday which conflates two bits of "news", with no justification whatever. One was about a fraudster who faces jail for claiming around £94k that she wasn't entitled to. Quite right too. Nobody, least of all genuine claimants, would ever defend her behaviour. But how's this for a headline: "Benefits Britain shame: Welfare cheat swindles £94k while 3.5m homes have NO ONE working". Not only does the one have nothing to do with the other. The Express has cited what was actually claimed as good news for the government by everyone else. And in its first three sentences the writers manage to imply that the workless household figures are getting worse, "out of control", when in fact they're improving. The Indus Delta site has a neat summary, taken from the ONS figures. There's a sort of acknowledgement of this by the Express: "Although the number of families dependent on welfare was very slightly down from last year's 3.7m, opponents of Britain's benefits culture said the official figures were still extremely worrying." And those opponents include, unsurprisingly, the the boss of the odious and misnamed Taxpayers' Alliance. So, whatever it takes to stoke the hatred is permissible.
But that's not enough. Today a writer called Giles Sheldrick produced another bizarre piece: "scarcely-believable excuses of benefit cheats revealed". (Note that "scarcely-believable". Not brave enough to say outright that they were lying.) The piece is scattered with the familiar hate phrases; "generous handouts" and "lifelong layabouts" are just two. They talk about "some of Britain's most deceitful individuals hellbent on conning the welfare state out of £1.2bn", without any explanation of where that figure comes from. They issue "a fresh call to hard-working and honest families to 'shop' those who view welfare as a limitless cash machine", linking dishonesty and unemployment. And, despicably, they say that IDS's reforms come from "frustration that a generation of lifelong layabouts trapped on benefits creates an annual £208bn welfare bill - £1 of every £3 raise in tax revenue". Note the carelessness of the verb "trapped" when that's not what he means. But, more importantly, note the way in which the benefits bill, which includes pensions and working tax credits, is said to be spent entirely on layabouts.
We heard this week that attacks, verbal and physical, on disabled people are increasing as morons, stirred up by this sort of vicious and dishonest writing, accuse them of being scroungers and worse. That's the tip of the iceberg. Hatred begets hate crimes. Why Whittow is doing this I can't imagine. Maybe it's down to his paper's owner, Richard Desmond. But the freedom of the press doesn't cover the freedom to spread this sort of vicious dishonesty.