I recently came across a BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) report from 5th July 2014 claiming that a 'new' survey by the UK Office for National Statistics, undertaken to mark the two years since the Paralympic Games in London, revealed that more than two-thirds of people within the UK believe that attitudes towards disabled people have improved since 2012.
(The report can be viewed via www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-28175349)
The report claimed that 10,000 people had taken part in this new survey, highlighting the positive legacy left by the 2012 Paralympic games, and leading to the quote below from the British Minister of State for Disabled People, Mike Penning:
"London 2012 helped lead to a transformation in the representation of, and attitudes towards, disabled people in Britain"
I was initially surprised by this article, because it contradicted all the indicators that actual abuse, harassment and violence towards the disabled seemed to be getting worse and not better. Indeed the article goes on to highlight a discrepancy between the perceptions of disabled people and non-disabled people as regards negative attitudes, with only 56.1% of the disabled people questioned being in agreement that attitudes had improved, compared with 70.7% of non-disabled people.
I was therefore not too surprised when I inspected this survey myself, and found that the figures regarding improved attitudes towards the disabled as quoted in the BBC report, were indeed highly misleading. Anybody wishing to check this out for themselves can do by downloading the following Government report here.
A closer look at the Government document quoted in the BBC report that the question referred to, and 'apparently' indicating that people's attitudes are improving, comes from page 6 of the document:
"Since the Paralympic games in 2012, do you think that the attitude of the general public towards disabled people has improved"
Yes, indeed 70.7% of non-disabled people thought attitudes towards the disabled had improved, and yes, 56.1% of disabled people questioned agreed. However, the sample size of the question was only 1,890 and not the 10,000 quoted by the BBC. That is a bit of a discrepancy. However, even without this discrepancy, the question asked in the survey and its responses, actually tell us very little about 'behavior' towards the disabled - apart from the fact that less disabled people feel that attitudes towards them are positive attitudes, compared to the perceptions of the non-disabled.
At this point I was rather intrigued to see what else this document had to 'offer' in its rather skinny 6 pages. Page 5 is where the most interesting part of this document can be found, containing two questions asked to participants, one question taken from a survey undertaken in 2013 and one question from the new 2014 survey.
Question asked in 2013 - "Would you say that the 2012 Paralympic Games have caused you to have a more positive view of disabled people, a more negative view of disabled people, or have your views remained the same"
Question asked in 2014 - "Since the Paralympic games in 2012, do you have a more positive view of disabled people"
Rather comparable questions, which seem to be asking exactly the same question as regards holding personal attitudes towards the disabled. The number of respondents involved were indeed 10,000 (a combination of the two surveys taken together) but it can hardly be called a 'new' survey, seeing that 7,980 of the answers were from the survey undertaken in 2013.
However, what is interesting are the actual responses to these questions about positive attitudes towards the disabled.
In 2013, 48.5% of non-disabled people said that they had a more positive attitude towards disabled people since the 2012 Paralympic games, and surprise, surprise, by 2014, this figure had dropped to 40.6%. Some legacy.
There is a proviso to this, however. The Government report adds a little note at the bottom that says: "Due to questionnaire changes, 2013 and 2014 data should not be compared".
So, by comparing the two sets of data which I have just done above, makes me a very naughty boy. However, there is no apparent, logical reason why the two sets of data cannot be compared, as the data is indeed highly comparable, and the 'questionnaire' changes mentioned, should not make any difference to this process. This little Government 'proviso' therefore seems to be there primarily to put off naughty boys like myself, from highlighting data that may inconveniently contradict the notion that attitudes towards the disabled have improved. The 'proviso' is also an example how surveys and polls are manipulated by Governments and the media, in order to endorse their arguments and rhetoric.
Anybody wishing to download the Government document mentioned, should also be made aware of the context in which this document has been produced. At present the Department of Works and Pensions within Britain (the government department responsible for this document) is under severe criticism for recent changes to welfare that have not only been haphazardly implemented, but seem primarily orchestrated to force as many disabled people off welfare benefits as possible. The disastrous effects of these welfare changes can be seen by following the link https://www.disabled-world.com/news/uk/catastrophe.php
This criticism is on top of previous criticism concerning negative political rhetoric and negative media reporting of disability benefit fraud, rhetoric that has been argued by some disabled groups to have influenced an increase of abuse and violence towards them.
Therefore, this document is put together at a time when this very same government department is seeking some good news about 'disability'.
Certainly, nobody can deny that the London 2012 Olympic games and the Paralympic games were a resounding success, showcasing the sporting abilities that people have, either able-bodied or not. But did it really leave a legacy of changed attitudes towards the disabled? I think not.
Negative attitudes towards disability come from many different sources, and only a persistent and consistent attack on negative behavior towards the disabled will bring about that change. A couple of weeks of sport, while exciting, will not bring about permanent change regarding negative attitudes, because there are so many other things going on within society that consistently work to undermine any positivity generated by the occasional 'Para' sport.
Additionally, only the disabled themselves may be actually qualified enough to determine whether attitudes towards them have improved, or indeed have become worse. In the 2014 survey mentioned above in the BBC report concerning 'improved' attitudes towards the disabled, the sample size was only 1890, and only 360 of those people were actually disabled (less than 20% of the overall sample).
Perhaps this fact indicates the real problem that the disabled face, it is not simply negative attitudes that are the problem, but one of negative behavior(s) and behavior(s) that often includes marginalization. Only when the disabled are brought in both permanently and visibly from the margins of society and treated as 'normal' people, will attitudes and behavior improve. 'Para' sport is fine, but once these high profile games are over, disabled people are once again largely 'removed' to the margins of society.
A question also has to be asked about the BBC's involvement in disseminating information from the UK Government that is basically unreliable. However, whether this is an example of BBC 'bias', or an example of 'sloppy journalism' is open to debate. Certainly, it would not have taken much effort for the journalist who disseminated this piece of Government nonsense to have interrogated the document concerned beforehand, rather than apparently regurgitating a piece of blatant Government PR.
This seems to be the problem with the state of British media at the moment, and one seemingly at the mercy of every PR specialist in the land. Any Government like any big organization within the UK has a PR department, and one that may produce more 'spin' than the average washing machine. That is what PR people are paid to do.
I'm certainly old enough to remember a time when BBC news coverage was regarded as a highly reliable source of information, information that was considered to be amongst the most accurate and impartial of any around the world. Arguably this notion of BBC impartiality has been somewhat disputed over the years, with the BBC accused by both the political 'right wing' and 'left wing' within the UK as being openly biased towards them.
At one time, I would certainly turn on BBC news to find out the 'true' version of a story. Not now. Now I would flick through a number of TV channels and probably draw my own conclusions. Certainly, the BBC has taken some flak for being 'biased' in some form or another, but what I primarily dislike about the BBC is that it is pretty much a 'state funded' enterprise and therefore potentially vulnerable to the whims, wishes and influence of any prevailing British Government. At the very least, it opens the BBC up to accusations of being an 'organ' of the UK Government.
For example, there have been recent accusations of BBC 'bias over its failure to cover an anti-austerity march which took place in Central London recently. The argument put forward by disabled groups campaigning against Government austerity measures, is that the BBC failed to cover the protest march of some 50,000 people, due to Government pressure. Certainly on the surface, the protesters involved would have expected to have had a line or two mentioned about the march aired by the BBC, particularly as the protest also delivered anti-austerity speeches by a number of high profile celebrities. Celebrities who often attract media attention on their own.
Whether the 'non-reporting' of this protest can be put down to a reluctance to report a protest that was potentially embarrassing to the Government, or whether the BBC felt that this protest simply wasn't important enough to report, is again open to debate.
However, the dissemination of misleading information to the British public as mentioned earlier, is not the sign of an independent nor impartial broadcasting company. In the next few days, the 2014 Commonwealth games and Commonwealth Para games will begin in Glasgow, Scotland. It will be interesting to note how the BBC reports any further surveys and polls conducted about the disabled and attitudes towards them, as a result of this new round of Para sport.
Paul Dodenhoff is a PhD research student at Lancaster University, Law School UK. This essay/article is written in a personal capacity. However, anybody wishing to support the research in any way, have an input into the research or be able to sponsor the research, may contact the author via the following email address: email@example.com
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