A disabled artistactivist has scattered the groun

first_imgA disabled artist-activist has scattered the ground-up remains of 650 clay human figures into the Bristol Channel, in the last stage of a project to demonstrate the real-life impact of austerity.Liz Crow said this final stage of the We Are Figures project, which coincided with the state opening of parliament, was “a distress call to the global community”.She had planned to scatter the remains into the Thames beside the Houses of Parliament, but this month’s election results – and the overall Conservative majority – convinced her that the message would not be heard in the UK.She decided instead to take the figures out into the busy shipping lane of the Bristol Channel in “an appeal to the international community to take heed and signal their solidarity”.The We Are Figures project aimed to “make visible the human cost of austerity”, and inspire action against cuts to support and services.All of the 650 figures were hand-sculpted by Crow from river mud, with each one paired with an individual story drawn from research into the impact of austerity, on subjects such as benefits reform, cuts to council spending, homelessness, malnutrition and NHS rationing.The night before the general election, Crow’s clay figures were raised into a bonfire and, as they were fired, the 650 austerity stories were read aloud over six hours.Afterwards, every one of the figures was ground up, and this week the remains were scattered into the Bristol Channel (pictured).Crow told Disability News Service that the project had been a “leap of faith”, and it was impossible to predict what its impact would be.She said: “No one thing is going to change the political landscape. What I am doing is in collaboration with many, many other things that other people are doing.“It is another way of communicating with people [about the impact of austerity]. That is one of the ways the project has been very successful, the conversations it has triggered.”Because of the results of the election, Crow said the end of the project now felt less like “a closing” and “more of a beginning”.She said: “It would be wonderful to say austerity is over and now we start rebuilding, but effectively it was a mark in the sand saying, ‘this is where we are,’ because it is going to get worse. I cannot see how it cannot.”Crow said the scattering of the remains of the figures over the side of the boat had been “incredibly moving”.She said: “I was very conscious all the way through the scattering, but also during the phases leading up to it, that every single one of those figures represented a real person, and I still felt that very strongly as I scattered them yesterday.”Among the stories marked by her project was that of Liza, who found applying for employment and support allowance to be so “horrendously stressful” that she could not face applying for disability living allowance. Instead, she scavenged for food from supermarket skips.Another was Stephen, who was assessed for his fitness for work and told by the healthcare professional to see a doctor as soon as possible. Although he was found fit for work, he was diagnosed with heart failure. He won his appeal but was told to attend another assessment, even though he was waiting for a heart operation. He was again assessed as being fit for work, but died 39 days after the assessment.A third story involved a young man with testicular cancer, who was sanctioned by Jobcentre Plus because he could not attend an appointment. Days later, he was admitted to hospital for intensive chemotherapy, after a scan revealed the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes. Even though a social worker from a cancer charity rang Jobcentre Plus to explain, they still refused to give him any money.Crow said she would now take some time to recover from the project, before deciding on her next piece of work.In the meantime, she will continue to work on a doctorate examining different approaches to activism, including the role of performing and the arts.And in the autumn, she is due to start on a film-based piece of work using footage shot during the We Are Figures project.Picture by Matthew Fesseylast_img read more

The twin brother of a man who killed himself after

first_imgThe twin brother of a man who killed himself after being told he was ineligible for two disability benefits has backed calls for an inquiry into links between the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and deaths of benefit claimants.DWP had beentold the man, Michael*, from the West Midlands, was depressed and suicidal, inaddition to his recent sight loss, but still found him fit for work.He was alsofound ineligible for personal independence payment (PIP), with the letters rejectinghis two benefit applications arriving within days of each other.Michael’sbrother, Adam*, had filled in the employment and support allowance (ESA) claimform on his behalf, and had made it clear his twin was severely depressed andsuicidal, following sight loss that had led to him losing his job as ahighly-skilled mechanic working on HGVs months earlier.But Adamsays DWP ignored that information and made no attempt to ensure his safety whenit sent the two letters, one after the other, telling him he was losing hisentitlement to ESA – which he had been granted while he was being assessed –and that he would not be entitled to PIP.About 10days after receiving the two letters, Michael took his own life.Within abouta week of his funeral, DWP wrote to Michael’s widow to admit that he had beenentitled to both benefits after all – including the enhanced levels of bothdaily living and mobility on PIP – and telling her she would receive £7,000 inbackpayments.Adam sentletters raising concerns about his brother’s case to DWP – telling the departmentthat the decisions it made had “played a significant part in my brother’staking his own life” – and work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, butreceived no reply to either of them.Adamcontacted Disability News Service (DNS) this week after reading about the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition on the Benefits and Work website.It is thefirst time the family have spoken to the media since Michael’s death inFebruary 2015.The JodeyWhiting petition calls for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to DWPfailings, and for evidence of criminal misconduct by civil servants orgovernment ministers to be passed to the police.It alsocalls for MPs to recognise that DWP is institutionally disablist and not fitfor purpose, and for DWP to “urgently change its policies and administration ofsocial security benefits to make the safety of all claimants a priority”.By thismorning, the petition had secured more than 25,000 signatures in less thanthree weeks. If it reaches 100,000 it should be debated by MPs in the House ofCommons.Adam said hesupported the petition and believed DWP was not fit for purpose “without ashadow of a doubt”.He said aninquiry was “not going to bring Michael back but it can make it better forother people”.He said hecame forward because he wanted to speak out about his brother, who he says was“another person let down by the broken benefit system”.Adam, who isalso disabled himself and previously set up a disability support organisationin their home town, said: “They took his benefits away. He got nothing, he wasdestitute. They didn’t tell him where he could go, where there were any supportagencies.“I filled inhis ESA form and I told them that he was depressed and suicidal. They knewthat.”He andMichael served in the army together.Adam said:“It’s now four years gone by but it’s as if it was yesterday. I miss him everyday. He was my soulmate.”Michael’sfamily have now become the eighth to support the Justice for Jodey Whitingpetition, which is also backed by the grassroots groups Black Triangle, Disabled People Against Cuts, Mental Health Resistance Network and WOWcampaign, as well as DNS. A DWPspokesperson refused to apologise for the department’s failings in the case, orto explain why DWP changed its mind about Michael’s eligibility for ESA and PIPso soon after his death.She alsorefused to say why DWP and Duncan Smith failed to respond to Adam’s two lettersafter his brother died, and whether DWP accepted Adam’s view that its failingsplayed a significant part in his brother’s death.But she saidin a statement: “The department has received a petition relating tobenefit claimants who have sadly died, and will respond to this shortly so wecan’t pre-empt that.“Obviously any suicide is a very complex and tragicissue, and we can’t attribute any specific one cause to [Michael’s] case. “Oursympathies are with [his] family. “We arecommitted to safeguarding vulnerable claimants and we keep our safeguardingguidance under constant review to ensure we provide the highest standard ofprotection.“Where anyfailings on specific cases have been identified, we have addressed these toensure they are not repeated.”*Names have been changed at his widow’srequestTo sign the Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committeeSamaritans can be contacted free, 24 hoursa day, 365 days a year, by calling 116 123 or emailing [email protected]last_img read more