CPAG complaint wins BBC Trust ruling on controversial benefits broadcast

30 July 2013

Following a complaint by CPAG, the BBC Trust has ruled today that a programme suggesting there is an ‘age of entitlement’ breached accuracy and impartiality rules.

The ruling relates to the programme The Future State of Welfare with John Humphrys, broadcast in October 2011.

The BBC Trust decided that the subject matter of The Future State of Welfare met its criteria for being a ‘controversial subject’ and a ‘major matter’. The programme postulated that there is an ‘age of entitlement’. The Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee upheld the complaints in relation to accuracy and impartiality.

The Trust found that the programme left viewers with the inaccurate view that the benefits the government is targeting are responsible for increases in benefit spending, when in reality JSA is only 3% of the total benefit bill whereas pension spending is 46% of total benefit spend.  The Trust also found that viewers were misled by the failure to provide the necessary labour market information - how many people are looking for work, not just how many jobs are available - that would allow audiences to come to balanced judgments about the reasons why claimants had not entered work.

The Committee also issued a reminder to programme makers of the pitfalls of using less formal programme styles with news and current affairs presenters on controversial subjects because of the sensitivity needed to the impression it might leave audiences.

CPAG has welcomed the decision and called for the media to ensure an honest and accurate debate can take place on social security and benefits.

Chief Executive Alison Garnham said:

“As well as telling the truth about the lack of evidence for the ‘dependency culture’ narrative, media coverage on social security must give due coverage to important matters like the lack of jobs, poverty pay, zero hour contracts, the high costs of childcare, the high cost of housing and the disappointing performance of the Work Programme.

“The reality needs to be reported that only 3% of welfare expenditure goes on Jobseekers Allowance, and that aside from the direct effects of the recession, social security expenditure on working age benefits has not increased has a proportion of GDP in recent years.”

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