Complaint to the BBC re Humphrys #TFSOWWJH

Here is the text of my complaint. I am happy for you to cut and paste it in whole or in part in order to submit your own complaint. Let’s share out the spoons…

“Beveridge… helped to create a different sort of monster in its place: the age of entitlement. The battle for his successors is to bring it to an end.” John Humphrys, reported in the Mail. What is this evidence for an age of entitlement? It would seem that this is an assertion reported as fact- which is a real failure of investigative journalism in an age when in half an hour I have researched the facts regarding this issue in the UK today.

Humphrys visits Cardiff in the documentary, and notes “one in four people of working age in this area are now living on benefits”. (The figure was 24%  [in Splott, the ward in Cardiff he visited, not Cardiff as a whole] as of February 2011). He doesn’t mention is it is quite exceptional for such a large share of working age people in an area to be on benefits: this is the case in only 5% of wards in Great Britain. This is a serious error in the form of bias, and a poor choice of case study for inclusion in such a documentary. The implication, that people are “swindling” the system, is offensive to people who are reliant on state support.

Humphrys states several times that numbers of claimants of incapacity benefit have grown steadily. He is wrong. In 1999, some 9.5 per cent of wards had 24% or more working age residents on benefits [these figures are for all out-of-work benefits (i.e. JSA, income support as well as IB/ESA).] In 2007, before the recession, this had fallen to 3.7 per cent. This would suggest concentrations of benefit receipt are highly responsive to labour market conditions: the opposite of what is suggested by the ‘welfare dependency’ theory. This is clear evidence of poor research, factual inaccuracy in reportage, and bias in reporting. It is offensive to claimants of welfare support. Humphrys visits a GP in the documentary. “What does she think of the statistics that say there are 2.5m people too sick to work? Unbelievable, she says. Literally unbelievable.” We all know how statistics, baldly stated, can mislead us and seduce us into believing our prejudices, our “evidence” from anecdotes are true representatives of fact. They very rarely are. That is why we use research methods to eliminate or account for bias.

52 per cent of people claiming sickness benefit (Incapacity Benefit/Employment Support Allowance) are disabled. We know this because they are also receiving Disability Living Allowance, which we know has a very low rate of fraud (less than 0.5%). [Although the analysis of the IB caseload referred to here hasn’t been published in full yet, some of the results were previewed in an article here] Humphrys has shown poor choice of question for this participant- one that reflects his bias, and which misrepresents myth and anecdote about claiming benefits for fact. This shows a poor standard of interviewing, bias, and factual misrepresentation. It is offensive to benefit recipients.

Among the rest of the sickness benefit caseload, receipt has been falling for years without the use of tough sanctions on claimants or benefit cuts – the opposite of what the “dependency” theory would lead us to expect. Humphrys makes no mention of this very salient fact in his documentary- which shows poor standard of presenting, bias, inaccuracy, and gives offence. Lone parent employment rates fell from 60% at the end of the 1970s to 44% by the mid-1990s and then rose steadily, reaching 58% today. We can see that this has not followed the expected direction of travel were “a dependency culture” to blame. Again, clear evidence of bias, factual misrepresentation, and poor standards of presentation.

“In my decades of reporting politics I have never before seen the sort of political consensus on the benefits system that we seem to be approaching now.” Here, Humphrys appears to be delivering a right-wing thesis on an imagined problem of “welfare dependency” within documentary format. It is a very poor reflection of the supposed impartiality and balance of reportage which I would expect from the BBC. In light of this, I demand that disabled people and their representatives, Citizens Advice Bureau staff, or other suitably qualified people are provided with the opportunity to make a point-by-point rebuttal in a similar time slot.

Many figures in this complaint have been taken from:

edit: To make a complaint, you need to fill out this form on the BBC website.

edit: 28/10/11 I have amended this post with a correction to the name “John Humphrys” which I had incorrectly spelled as “John Humphries”. Apologies.

edit: 28/10/11 Declan Gaffney of the excellent Left Foot Forward article referenced above has been in touch with some suggested amendments to the figures I used in this piece. I have now amended the document with Declan’s figures and suggestions [in italics in the square brackets] within the text. Thank you to Declan for the helpful suggestions.

edit: 05/11/11 I received a response to my complaint, and blogged it here

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  1. bridget price

     /  October 28, 2011

    unfortunately people in power, being largely composed of psychopaths (outwardley charming with no moral compass) are very adept at transfering blame from themselves onto another group. This time bankers et al are managing to manipulate governments and many of the populace into believing that the financial troubles are all down to the very lowest echaelons of society.
    So far they are winning. We can only hope ‘Occupy’ which is uniting people globally, can have some effect.

    • I’m interested to know if you’e read Jon Ronson’s new book, the Psychopath Test? pretty much the same premise as you have so succinctly put here.

      The “trickle up” of wealth in this country is shameful, when so many people are struggling. It must be bad for the Warren Buffets of this world to be saying it has to stop!

  2. Declan Gaffney

     /  October 28, 2011

    Couple of points on the figures.

    3rd para
    24% is the figure for Splott in Cardiff, not Cardiff as a whole.
    4th para
    these figures are for all out-of-work benefits (i.e. JSA, income support as well as IB/ESA)
    5th para
    The analysis of the IB caseload referred to here hasn’t been published in full yet (it’s coming out next month) so it’s not really fair to blame them for not mentioning this. However some of the results were previewed in an article here I think a charge of laziness and failing to ask obvious questions rather than misrepresentation would stand up better.

    • Thank you for stopping by my blog. I’m aware you’re the author of the excellent article I referenced in writing this- thank you for your forensic work in tracking down all the statistics so that people like me feel able to debate these issues.

      I am unsure as to best journalistic practice in this situation- I propose amending the post and crediting you for the clarified information, please let me know if this is the best way to ensure the piece is as accurate as possible.

      I accept that some people feel my complaint would have had more weight had I made the accusation of lazy journalism- and this may well be true. I hope everyone who is making their own complaint will be making it on their own terms- my document is merely to save people with limited energy from having to start the process from scratch.

      Thanks again for commenting.

  3. Humphry Johns

     /  October 28, 2011

    I agree completely with the point you are making in your complaint, but please spell the man’s name right if you want it and all the complaints your readers will hopefully base on it to be taken seriously!

    I would have emailed you this to save you the embarrassment, but I couldn’t find an email address for you. I would suggest correcting the post then deleting this comment!

    • You’re absolutely correct, of course!

      The mistake was pointed out to me on Twitter earlier today, but like a lot of people with limiting conditions, I am not always able to work to the best of my ability. This showed by my getting the name wrong last night, and by the time it has taken to respond to you.

      I apologize to everyone who has now cut and pasted the wrong name into their complaint- I will edit the post to correct it.

      Thanks for responding- in the interests of transparency, I would prefer not to delete your post. Thank you.

  4. This is excellently put together, though I worry that your final demand of a point-by-point rebuttal in a similar time slot will result in this complaint being dismissed out of hand because its unlikely that they would ever allow that. I have gratefully used a lot of this information in my own complaint, but have asked for a broadcast apology instead of a prime-time slot.

    • Good point- you might have used a better tactic there. Let’s see what happens. At least 30 people have complained to the BBC through this post, already. I wonder how many complaints in total the program will attract?

      Thanks for commenting, and you’re welcome to have used the post to make your own complaint.

  5. The biggest travesty, injustice, shame (call it what you will) is that, through the BBC, John Humphries has helped to do untold damage to the perception of EVERYONE who receives or even depends upon Benefits. He doesn’t care about what happens to us. To be honest, I doubt He gave a damn while He was ‘investigating’ the whole issue. His report on the Welfare State is just a nasty, drawn-out insult: it is a soundbite of the worst kind – and victimizes still further those who have already been pilloried by the Press and the Media. Is it any surprise the Public has become so hostile? Is it any surprise that the Tories are using the same machinations as they did against the Miners long ago? Yet John Humphries is just a marionette – the real Puppet Master is Chris Patton (Former Governor of Hong Kong and stalwart of the Thatcher Government: now Chairman of the BBC.. see the link?) who has surely started the same nonesense as they did when they ‘accidentally’ edited footage of the Orgreave Colliery Riots to seem as if the miners had attacked the Police. Over a decade later, after the events had slipped from the Public’s consciousness – the BBC came out with the most grovelling and unbelievable apology for what they had done. What they did was to ‘arrange’ propaganda for the Conservative Governement – and here we are again! This time the BBc isn’t listening to anyone but the Politicians and the fringe lunatics who seem to pop-up in front of Cameras all the time. Meanwhile Organizations like Disability Protest Website Black Triangle and,[more prominent now because they are planted outside of St Paul’s Cathedral] Occupy The Stock Exchange are marginalized, side-lined and ignored. Deliberately. However. Prominent TV personalities like John Humphries get to say anything they like and, as a direct consequence, make life unbearable for others. There is no remedy – (not unless you want to get heavy with the PM and his Tribe?) It is not possible to take the BBC to Court unless you are very, very rich. Justice is denied. I suggest we write to as many MP’s and ask this question – Are we now a Communist State? Because the denial of any right to be heard, right to disagree or the denoial of a right to have an equal platform (even the flaming BNP were given more access to those who listen, than Black Triangle,) would suggest we are! There isn’t much to be done at present because while the BBC and other TV Stations distribute and broadcast these sorts of programmes – it is difficult to fight against. They have the Public’s ear. Writing to the BBC does no good either: their website is pretty much a ‘ghost board.’ I doubt it is ever read by any of the Editors. Writing to the Editors directly may get you noticed, but they are highly adept at pushing the Party-line in your face while making you feel any opposition is a waste of time. The only way is to deluge the BBC and all the Editors with complaints. Make your complaints as vitriolic as they need to be, but most of all, make them endlessly frequent! That way, they have NO choice but to listen!

    • Thanks for your comment.

      So many people are angry about what is happening at the moment. Your advice to complain, and to support actions that highlight the inherent inequality in responses to the recession is sage.

  6. Robert Fraser

     /  October 28, 2011

    Here’s some info uncovered by PCS. It’s from 2010, but it puts Humphreys Cardiff claims in a better perspective.

    23 October 2010

    “The city where Iain Duncan Smith claims people from Merthyr Tydfil should go to find work currently has almost nine times more jobseekers than jobs, research by PCS shows.

    Figures obtained by the union for the day following the work and pensions secretary’s statement about unemployed workers ‘getting on the bus’, show there are 15,000 people in Cardiff chasing just 1,700 jobs.
    On Friday 22 October there were 1,670 unemployed people in Merthyr, south Wales, and 39 job vacancies, all temporary and part-time. The number of people out of work in Merthyr and Blaenau Gwent combined was more than the total number of job vacancies for the whole of Wales.
    Of the Cardiff vacancies, the vast majority were temporary and part-time. Of the temporary jobs, most were unskilled labouring for just one or three weeks’ duration.
    The most popular vacancy on the day the union carried out its research was a Christmas job in a well known store working four-hour shifts on Saturdays and Sundays for the national minimum wage.
    Among the permanent jobs was work in a casino or bars. Neither offered help with journeys home afterwards and the last bus out of Cardiff leaves at 11.06pm. Workers from outside the city might be able to get the bus to work, but they would not be able to get home.
    Nationally, there are 2.5 million people out of work and fewer than 500,000 job vacancies. As part of this week’s spending review, the government admitted 490,000 public sector workers could lose their jobs and economists predict this could lead to another half a million private sector job cuts.
    These figures prove it is not a question of people not being willing to work, there simply are not enough jobs for them to do – and there are unlikely to be any time soon because of the government’s plans to cut public spending, including cutting 15,000 more jobs in the Department for Work and Pensions.
    Far from being about ‘fairness’, the union says Duncan Smith’s comments were part of an orchestrated campaign by coalition government ministers to recast some of the most vulnerable members of our society as the new ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor to help clear the ground for the biggest assault on the welfare state in living memory.
    Also, the fact is that when people sign on, they already sign a jobseekers agreement that says they are prepared to travel up to an hour by bus to find work. After six months this goes up to an hour and a half.
    If their travel is within an hour, the cost is not refunded so the jobseeker is required to find the money themselves out of their jobseekers allowance.
    Instead of vilifying the unemployed PCS says the government should be creating jobs and opportunities to help people get back to work and to help our economy to grow. It should also put proper resources into jobcentres to help jobseekers find suitable employment.”


  1. ‘The Future State of Welfare’ with John Humphries – A Review « The Not So Big Society
  2. Response from the BBC re Complaint about Humphrys’ bias in #TFSOWWJH « OT on wheels

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