The Guardian just protected the DWP over cancer patients’ hardship

The new Guardian and DWP logos with a picture of a man burying his head in the sand
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Cancer patients are struggling to eat and heat their homes. That’s what a charity found when it surveyed 2,000 people living with the disease. The blame for this can be firmly placed on the government and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – unless of course you’re the Guardian. For them, cancer patients’ suffering is ‘just one of those things’ in the faceless “cost of living crisis“.

Cancer: appalling findings

Macmillan Cancer Support surveyed 2,000 cancer patients about their financial situation. The charity framed it in the context of the so-called “cost of living crisis”. As the Guardian reported, Macmillan found that among cancer patients:

  • 32% are “wearing coats or dressing gowns indoors more to try to stay warm”.
  • 24% “can’t afford life at the moment”.
  • 24% “have been buying less food or making fewer hot meals”.
  • 16% have been “washing their clothes or bedding less – or not at all”.

Pretty shocking figures, no doubt. It’s worse when you consider the health needs of cancer patients. Lara Burwell, who lives with thyroid cancer, said that:

I have overwhelming anxiety as all the money worries add up, and on top of this I am so fearful about how our standard of living will affect my cancer recovery. We’ve completely cut out heating, which is horrible as my treatment means I get really cold, but even with that saving I’m not sure we can afford the rent any more.

The DWP: blameless?

But who is responsible for leaving cancer patients in this dire situation? If you read the Guardian article – you’d have no idea. It managed to write over 500 words on the story without once mentioning:

  • The government.
  • The DWP.
  • HMRC.
  • Energy companies.

That is, the Guardian did not give any context as to whose actions were causing cancer patients’ suffering. This is despite the culprits being obvious.

DWP: attacking the poorest people

For example, Disability News Service (DNS) reported on the state of the DWP. It noted that it was taking on average 23 weeks (nearly six months) to deal with people’s Personal Independence Payment (PIP) claims. Many of these would likely be for cancer. Then, you also have the built-in five week wait for people’s first Universal Credit payment that the DWP inflicts on new claimants. On top of this, it also makes chronically ill, sick, and disabled people wait three months for the extra sickness and disability payments in Universal Credit.

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HMRC isn’t blameless in this, either. It deals with Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), which some cancer patients will claim. The UK’s SSP rate of just over £99 a week is one of the lowest in Europe. Moreover, the EU found it breached its Social Charter in 2018, saying that UK SSP was “manifestly inadequate” and “not in conformity” with the charter. The Institute for Employment Rights noted that:

Only three countries – including the UK – apply a flat rate of [SSP] to all workers, and we are one of only four that do not extend this protection to the self-employed.

All of this is without the energy companies seeing a £1bn-plus profit bonanza as people’s prices surge. Yet if you’re the Guardian none of this matters, and cancer patients’ hardship and destitution is all down to the faceless, perpetrator-less “cost of living crisis“.

The Guardian: don’t mention the class war

When even right-wing tabloid the Express manages to report on campaigner’s claimed link between the DWP and cancer patient’s suffering, you know the Guardian has had it. However, the broader point is that its approach sums up a wider problem.

The media’s framing of the wilful persecution of the poorest people as a ‘cost of living crisis’ helps absolve the government and corporations of any responsibility. It downplays the fact that they know their policies and inaction are hitting the poorest the hardest. So, framing forced destitution as “Tory incompetence”, like Labour leader Keir Starmer did, means the class war we’re in the midst of becomes an almost benign entity about which nothing can be done. You’d hope the Guardian would know better. Sadly, it seems it doesn’t.

Featured image via Sander van der Wel – Flickr, resized to 770×403 under licence CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia and Wikimedia 

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