Police on twitter

GMPolice gloating about sentences

The tweet above is from Greater Manchester Police, tweeting as @gmpolice. It reads “Mum-of-two, not involved in disorder, jailed for FIVE months for accepting shorts looted from shop. There are no excuses!

My problems with this are:

  • The sentence is disproportionate (Although that is a problem with the judge, not the police.)
  • The tweet shows enthusiasm, maybe even glee, over the length of the sentence. Particaularly with the emphasis of “FIVE months” and “There are no excuses!” It is not the place of the police to comment on, recommend or celebrate the length of a sentence or the defence used in court.

On social media it is a good thing to comment, converse and give opinion. This builds community, which is why it is called social media. In the case of the police, however, they should remain detached and professional when it comes to presenting information to the public – just as in any other time they interact with the public. We expect our police forces to be unbiased and therefore accurate in their administration of justice, and adding personal opinion to the information presented on social networks gives the impression of a bias of the whole police force, whether that represents their general opinion or not. It would have been more appropriate to tweet something like

Mum-of-two, not involved in disorder, jailed for 5 months for accepting shorts looted from shop. Judges issuing tough sentences over riots.

This would have conveyed the information to the public without adding emphasis, but while still warning of tough sentences in order to provide a deterrent.

Overall, I have been told that @gmpolice are making good use of social media. Perhaps the people (yes, real people with opinions and lives) behind the twitter account are overworked and tired, especially after a week of rioting and looting. And we can all make mistakes. However, they must step back and examine what is professional and appropriate for them to say on twitter. Revelling, or appearing to revel, in a long and harsh sentence is not appropriate for the people that are supposed to uphold the law. Their job is to find the criminals and present them to the court, not to gloat.

—-Addendum—

@GMPolice published this message within an hour of the one mentioned above.

[blackbirdpie id=”102328672052187136″]

Benefits and BMWs

The Sunday Times has decided to be outraged about people on benefits getting BMW cars. The headline they ran with was State hands out BMWs to ‘disabled’ (Paywall link) and it was plastered across the front page.

Unfortunately there are so many errors in the article that even the headline is plain wrong. To start with, the state does not “hand out” any cars to “the disabled”. Disabled people or the long term sick may get the higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance to provide for their travel needs, and it can be spent as the recipient chooses but usually goes towards cars, wheelchairs, scooters, trains, buses, taxis and more. There is a charity scheme called Motability, and if a person wishes, they can pay the mobility component of their DLA to the Motability scheme in return for a car.

The state has not handed anyone a car, people have received the benefits to which they are entitled, and chosen to spend their money on a car.

The Motobility scheme works on the basis of leasing a new car out, and then selling it at the end of three years. (This works out cheaper than buying second hand cars and paying for their maintenance, and is more reliable and safer.) Motability has a set budget and any extra cost over the standard amount has to be covered by the user of the car – for example if the car has been driven more than the expected distance, there will be a mileage fee when the car is handed back. If someone wants a more expensive car to start with then they can pay the difference in cost so that Motability does not lose money. Some people pay a few hundred pounds extra to get a car more suitable for their medical condition, such as a car with a higher seat for people that struggle getting in and out of the car, or find low seating painful. These people often borrow at their own expense to pay the difference in cost. A BMW can be had through Motability for an extra fee in the same way that a slightly higher model Citroen could be. It’s just that there is a big difference in the size of that extra fee.

To get a BMW on Motability costs the end user at least £1,399 extra, and it is a fee, not a deposit.

It should be noted that DLA is not an out of work benefit, it is paid to everyone that has a qualifying disability, regardless of their work status or income. People that are still in work, especially if in a high powered job, or that have savings, might be able to afford the extra fee. Whether that is right or wrong is a different argument, but no fraud has been committed as DLA was intended to cover the extra cost of disability when working as much as when not.

The Sunday Times also talked about people using the car without the owner present. Some of the the points they made were true, but they missed that the car may be used on behalf of the sick or disabled person or for their benefit. That means that a carer could drive the car to go shopping to buy food for the owner of the car, completely within the rules. Of course they can’t use the owner’s blue badge or park in a disabled parking space, since they can walk across the car park.

Someone else can use a Motability car on behalf of the owner without them present.

The Sunday Times highlighted two cases of fraud in an attempt to back up their argument. One was someone whose health had improved but who had not informed the DWP and had gone back to work as a boxer, and the other was someone that was using his wife’s car to make deliveries as a courier. Benefit fraud levels are incredibly low, but with millions of people involved, even 0.5% means that a few people committing fraud can be found. Highlighting two cases without telling the reader how small a minority commit fraud is highly misleading. It should also be noted that while the boxer who didn’t inform anyone of his improvement was committing benefit fraud, the person driving his wife’s car was not. He was breaking the rules of the motability scheme and driving a car without paying the vehicle excise duty. (Which is waived for people receiving higher rate mobility component of DLA.) He had not defrauded the government out of any DLA benefit money.

The whole article has the same tone that we are becoming used to from mainstream newspapers. The implication that everyone on benefits is a scrounger. The article mentions that 123,000 people receive DLA for back pain, as though back pain is a simple thing or is somehow less worthy of support. (It covers scoliosis, degenerative spinal conditions, botched surgery resulting in nerve damage or paralysis.) Even the use of quotes around the word disabled in the headline is used to imply quite strongly that these people are not really disabled. I refuse to believe that the ‘journalists’ (see what I did there?) are that ignorant or don’t understand DLA and Motability. There is a clear agenda in this article to smear these people and create outrage. It is not acceptable and an apology must be given. I urge you to complain to the Press Complaints Commission about the factual innacuracies in their article, as I will be doing.

Cross posted at Where’s the Benefit?