DPAC protesters call for general strike over cuts

An award-winning disabled artist is to spend three days in bed in front of an audience, in an attempt to portray the contradictions of her impairment, and the government’s “miserable, terrifying, punishing” fitness for work assessment regime.

The writer-director-activist Liz Crow is forced to spend much of her life in bed because of her impairment, but has always managed to keep that part of herself hidden from view.

“I have developed this incredibly stark way of living,” she says, “and what other people see of me in public spaces is not how I am for most of my life. Even the people close to me don’t really know me at the most extreme.”

In Bedding In, she will make her “twilight existence visible”, exposing the part of her life she spends in bed to public scrutiny, and for the first time “parading” this private self in public.

The piece, part of this year’s SPILL Festival of Performance, in Ipswich, is Crow’s response to the government’s harsh benefits reassessment programme.

But rather than lying low for fear of being penalised by the Department for Work and Pensions, she has decided to “stare that fear in the face”.

She is one of the hundreds of thousands of long-time incapacity benefit claimants who have been tested through the government’s reassessment programme, and subjected to the infamous work capability assessment, carried out by the government’s contractor Atos Healthcare.

Even though Crow has used a wheelchair for 26 years, Atos decided that she had no difficulty walking. She was placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG), for those thought able to move towards paid work.

But she knows she cannot make herself available for work, and so – unless she wins her appeal – she has resigned herself to having her benefits taken away because of the inevitable failure to co-operate with the regime.

“The consequences are that I may have no income coming in and don’t know how as a single parent I will care for my child, let alone my home, etc.”

Less than two weeks after her performance ends, she will need to parade her private self again, when she appeals to a tribunal against the decision to place her in the WRAG.

Crow is clear that she wants Bedding In to be about the complexity of her impairment, and not its “tragedy”.

“I live a pretty good life with the complicated set of circumstances that I have got,” she says, “but if I step out of my bed then it is not seen as complexity or contradiction, and in the current benefits system it means you fall through the gaps.”

Each day during the performance at Ipswich Art School Gallery, members of the public will gather around her bed to discuss the work, and its politics. The hope is that Crow will take the “data” from these conversations and use them to further develop the piece.

“It is a political statement,” she says of the performance, “but it is also trying to make visible this kind of internal wrestling that goes on for a lot of us with the benefits stuff.

“Since I got personal assistants 15 years ago I have managed to find a kind of fragile security in my life. I have rarely earned but I have, I hope, contributed.

“Now the benefits thing has kicked in it has all gone. Suddenly I don’t feel I have any security left whatsoever.”

Even if she wins her appeal, she faces the likely prospect of being reassessed again in another year or so, and then again, and again.

“The idea that this is life now: that is just dire. There are hundreds of thousands of us going through this assessment. There is some small comfort that there are a lot of us in it together but it is not much comfort because of the toll it takes.

“I have this tiny amount of time when I am well enough to do stuff and I am looking at that time being taken away.

“It has been really hard to create the life I have got, a reasonable life, and this big system comes along with these politicians who are so extraordinarily removed from a life like mine and they demolish what I have built up.”

The whole process feels, she says, like “punishment”, not assessment, “an endless round of justifying myself and fighting for a grain of security”.

“There are layers and layers of why it is so hard. One of the things is that if you fall through the gaps, for the press it is evidence that you are a scrounger and a fraudster.”

She is among the many disabled activists who believe that this cruel assessment process – and the callous and incompetent way it is carried out by Atos – are responsible for the premature deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of disabled people.

Even if these deaths are not caused by the process, she says, “actually they died among all this shit, their last few months were so miserable and so frightening, and I think that’s unforgivable. To condemn people to a really miserable last few months is diabolical.”

Crow feels there is an affinity between her performance and the direct action protest carried out by members of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) at Marble Arch in central London last weekend.

One of the reasons she is so impressed with DPAC’s campaigning work, she says, is that “they have created an incredible visible presence but have found ways for all sorts of people to contribute”, particularly through social media.

She also sees links with her most recent piece of work, Resistance, an award-winning video installation about the Aktion-T4 programme, which led to the targeted killing of as many as 200,000 disabled people, and possibly many more, in Nazi Germany.

She began working on Resistance in 2008, and started thinking about its themes several years earlier, and felt even then that there were contemporary “connections”.

“Those contemporary connections have just got stronger and stronger,” she says. “I am appalled to feel that we are under greater threat now than we have been in all the years I have been involved in activism.”

She points to newspaper reports of alleged disability benefit fraud and the use of language like “shirkers”, “scroungers” and “fakers” to describe disabled people. This kind of propaganda, she says, is “eerily familiar” from descriptions of pre-Holocaust Germany.

The “specifics” of what is happening now are not the same as in Nazi Germany, she adds, but “the values beneath it are, this idea that we are somehow dispensable, more dispensable than others”.

She also points to the Paralympics, which she says “makes the scrounger-fraudster rhetoric stronger, and leads to a backlash”.

There are even similarities between the Paralympic classification system, and the benefits assessment system. Both suit those who have a “bio-mechanical, quantifiable impairment”, rather than less clear and easily-determined impairments.

Would-be Paralympians with “nebulous impairments” fall through the gaps, she says, just as she and many tens of thousands of other disabled people have fallen through the yawning gaps in the benefits system.

Bedding In is part of Disability Arts Online’s Diverse Perspectives project, which is funded by Arts Council England, and is commissioning eight disabled artists to make new artwork that “sparks conversations and debate about the creative case for diversity”.

Bedding In takes place at the Ipswich Art School Gallery from 1-3 November, from 11am to 6pm, as part of the SPILL Festival of Performance in Ipswich.

24 October 2012

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Artist will stare “fitness for work” fears in the face with public exposure of her bed life

An award-winning disabled artist is to spend three days in bed in front of an audience, in an attempt to portray the contradictions of her impairment, and the government’s “miserable, terrifying, punishing” fitness for work assessment regime.

The writer-director-activist Liz Crow is forced to spend much of her life in bed because of her impairment, but has always managed to keep that part of herself hidden from view.

“I have developed this incredibly stark way of living,” she says, “and what other people see of me in public spaces is not how I am for most of my life. Even the people close to me don’t really know me at the most extreme.”

In Bedding In, she will make her “twilight existence visible”, exposing the part of her life she spends in bed to public scrutiny, and for the first time “parading” this private self in public.

The piece, part of this year’s SPILL Festival of Performance, in Ipswich, is Crow’s response to the government’s harsh benefits reassessment programme.

But rather than lying low for fear of being penalised by the Department for Work and Pensions, she has decided to “stare that fear in the face”.

She is one of the hundreds of thousands of long-time incapacity benefit claimants who have been tested through the government’s reassessment programme, and subjected to the infamous work capability assessment, carried out by the government’s contractor Atos Healthcare.

Even though Crow has used a wheelchair for 26 years, Atos decided that she had no difficulty walking. She was placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG), for those thought able to move towards paid work.

But she knows she cannot make herself available for work, and so – unless she wins her appeal – she has resigned herself to having her benefits taken away because of the inevitable failure to co-operate with the regime.

“The consequences are that I may have no income coming in and don’t know how as a single parent I will care for my child, let alone my home, etc.”

Less than two weeks after her performance ends, she will need to parade her private self again, when she appeals to a tribunal against the decision to place her in the WRAG.

Crow is clear that she wants Bedding In to be about the complexity of her impairment, and not its “tragedy”.
“I live a pretty good life with the complicated set of circumstances that I have got,” she says, “but if I step out of my bed then it is not seen as complexity or contradiction, and in the current benefits system it means you fall through the gaps.”

Each day during the performance at Ipswich Art School Gallery, members of the public will gather around her bed to discuss the work, and its politics. The hope is that Crow will take the “data” from these conversations and use them to further develop the piece.

“It is a political statement,” she says of the performance, “but it is also trying to make visible this kind of internal wrestling that goes on for a lot of us with the benefits stuff.

“Since I got personal assistants 15 years ago I have managed to find a kind of fragile security in my life. I have rarely earned but I have, I hope, contributed.

“Now the benefits thing has kicked in it has all gone. Suddenly I don’t feel I have any security left whatsoever.”
Even if she wins her appeal, she faces the likely prospect of being reassessed again in another year or so, and then again, and again.

“The idea that this is life now: that is just dire. There are hundreds of thousands of us going through this assessment. There is some small comfort that there are a lot of us in it together but it is not much comfort because of the toll it takes.

“I have this tiny amount of time when I am well enough to do stuff and I am looking at that time being taken away.

“It has been really hard to create the life I have got, a reasonable life, and this big system comes along with these politicians who are so extraordinarily removed from a life like mine and they demolish what I have built up.”

The whole process feels, she says, like “punishment”, not assessment, “an endless round of justifying myself and fighting for a grain of security”.

“There are layers and layers of why it is so hard. One of the things is that if you fall through the gaps, for the press it is evidence that you are a scrounger and a fraudster.”

She is among the many disabled activists who believe that this cruel assessment process – and the callous and incompetent way it is carried out by Atos – are responsible for the premature deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of disabled people.

Even if these deaths are not caused by the process, she says, “actually they died among all this shit, their last few months were so miserable and so frightening, and I think that’s unforgivable. To condemn people to a really miserable last few months is diabolical.”

Crow feels there is an affinity between her performance and the direct action protest carried out by members of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) at Marble Arch in central London last weekend.

One of the reasons she is so impressed with DPAC’s campaigning work, she says, is that “they have created an incredible visible presence but have found ways for all sorts of people to contribute”, particularly through social media.

She also sees links with her most recent piece of work, Resistance, an award-winning video installation about the Aktion-T4 programme, which led to the targeted killing of as many as 200,000 disabled people, and possibly many more, in Nazi Germany.

She began working on Resistance in 2008, and started thinking about its themes several years earlier, and felt even then that there were contemporary “connections”.

“Those contemporary connections have just got stronger and stronger,” she says. “I am appalled to feel that we are under greater threat now than we have been in all the years I have been involved in activism.”

She points to newspaper reports of alleged disability benefit fraud and the use of language like “shirkers”, “scroungers” and “fakers” to describe disabled people. This kind of propaganda, she says, is “eerily familiar” from descriptions of pre-Holocaust Germany.

The “specifics” of what is happening now are not the same as in Nazi Germany, she adds, but “the values beneath it are, this idea that we are somehow dispensable, more dispensable than others”.

She also points to the Paralympics, which she says “makes the scrounger-fraudster rhetoric stronger, and leads to a backlash”.

There are even similarities between the Paralympic classification system, and the benefits assessment system. Both suit those who have a “bio-mechanical, quantifiable impairment”, rather than less clear and easily-determined impairments.

Would-be Paralympians with “nebulous impairments” fall through the gaps, she says, just as she and many tens of thousands of other disabled people have fallen through the yawning gaps in the benefits system.

Bedding In is part of Disability Arts Online’s Diverse Perspectives project, which is funded by Arts Council England, and is commissioning eight disabled artists to make new artwork that “sparks conversations and debate about the creative case for diversity”.

Bedding In takes place at the Ipswich Art School Gallery from 1-3 November, from 11am to 6pm, as part of the SPILL Festival of Performance in Ipswich.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

London 2012: Festival cancelled after venue plunges into administration

A major international disability arts and human rights festival set to take place during the London 2012 Paralympics has had to be cancelled, after the venue where it was being staged was forced into administration.

The Together! 2012 festival had been due to include a conference on how the UN disability convention can be used to promote access to art, culture and sport, as well as a feast of high quality disability arts, and was being led by the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC).

But the festival – and much of its programme – was called off this week when the London Pleasure Gardens venue in east London was forced to close, only weeks after it opened.

Some of the Together! 2012 programme has been rescued.

UKDPC’s offices in Stratford, a short walk from the Olympic Park, will host an “open house” event throughout the Paralympics, which will include some performances, although details have yet to be finalised.

And a Together! exhibition of work by local disabled artists, at the People’s Gallery and Museum of Newham, will still go ahead, from 3 to 8 September.

Other events are being rescheduled to take place during Disability History Month later this year, including some exhibitions, the conference on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a disability film festival, and poetry and film workshops.

Julie Newman, UKDPC’s acting chair, said the organisation was “sad” to announce the cancellation, and added: “Together! has attracted a huge amount of support from across the disabled world, and has been embraced by disabled people who wanted to come together to celebrate disability sport and art as well as to raise awareness of disabled people’s lives in all our rich diversity.”

Together!’s organisers have already criticised the Arts Council and LOCOG, the London 2012 organising committee, for failing to provide financial backing for the festival, despite significant support from disabled people.

Both Arts Council England and LOCOG concentrated funding instead on the Unlimited series of 29 collaborations between disabled and mainstream artists, set to be showcased by the Southbank Centre in central London during the Paralympics.

Because of this lack of funding, Together! had already been forced to relocate from its original venue a short walk from West Ham station in east London, one of the “gateway” stations for the Olympic Park.

Organisers had hoped the festival would be a major boost for a disability arts sector in London that has been left decimated over the last few years, and provide a “springboard” for disability arts in east London.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Inspired folk dancers receive 2012 seal of approval

A project that adapts traditional English folk dances for wheelchair-users has been recognised by organisers of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Folk in Motion has been granted an Inspire mark, official 2012 branding that recognises innovative and exceptional projects inspired by the games.

The project takes traditional English folk dances dating back to the 1600s and adapts them for wheelchair-users, to produce a new form of dance that those taking part have called “wolk”.

Wolk is danced in pairs, with a group of pairs making up a team, usually of eight dancers. Teams dance at the pace of the slowest member.

Dr Ju Gosling, who created the project and is based in the 2012 host borough of Newham, said: “We believe that dance is for everyone. With no body movements required, wolk is open to all wheelchair-users, including people who need to be pushed. Forming a wolk team is also a great way to have fun and make friends.”

Gosling is hoping the Folk in Motion project – which is supported by the English Folk Dance and Song Society – will boost interest and participation in wheelchair dance.

Wheelchair dance sport is recognized by the International Paralympic Committee, although it is not included within the Paralympics itself. There are fewer than 15 wheelchair dance sport clubs in the UK, compared with more than 10 times that number in the Netherlands.

Gosling also hopes local wheelchair-users will take part in a wolk project at the Together international disability arts festival, which is due to take place in parallel with the Paralympics, in a park in Newham, less than two miles from the main Olympic Park.

There could also be a performance on what is likely to be the penultimate day of the festival, Saturday 8 September.

Gosling is director of the festival, which will put disability rights at its heart, and will be led by the UK Disabled People’s Council.

The Folk in Motion project was founded last November following Gosling’s exhibition Canning Town Folk, which looked at the work of three women from the English folk dance movement, and their links with Canning Town in east London, early in the last century.

While working on the exhibition, Gosling realised the dances could be adapted for wheelchair-users. A development week was funded by Arts Council England.

The project provides free downloadable choreography, music, scores and teaching videos on its website.

Lord [Seb] Coe, chair of the London 2012 organising committee LOCOG, said: “Folk in Motion is encouraging disabled people to fulfill their potential.

“I am proud that with the help of partners such as Folk in Motion and the English Folk Dance and Song Society, we are delivering our vision to use the power of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games to boost participation in wheelchair dance.”

Folk in Motion is available for demonstrations and to lead workshops, and next year plans a tour of folk festivals.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com