THTC launches another campaign in a bid to help one of our mates, and raise awareness of the horrific injustice being perpetuated against the sick, disabled and vulnerable in the UK. Ashwin rolls in with the full scoop.
Gav and I have our fair share of daily problems. However, trying to keep THTC going with just two full time employees, staying on top of accounts, trying to be better with MS Excel, and maintain a decent work-life balance means completely naff all, when compared to the hardships that are inflicted upon other people across the country and the rest of the world.
We’ve a number of friends who have disabilities, but neither Gav nor myself have ever truly experienced the materiality of the difficulties that many of them face on a daily basis. Since 2011 we’ve all been reading the horror stories of the results of the Tory (and Lib Dem) policies of austerity - the ‘rationalisation’ of welfare and benefits in an attempt to claw back some of the billions of pounds ‘lost’ in the Credit Crisis, the billions spent on pointless wars and in bailing out the banks. However, the news never really hit home until we started hearing about the rising body count.
Back in 2015, the Guardian and others started publishing stories from activists such as Disabled People Against the Cuts, Disability News Service, and others detailing deaths associated from people either waiting for their benefit. At that point, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) revealed that during the period December 2011 and February 2014, 2380 people died while either waiting for a decision on their ESA, or while trying to appeal its decision that they’d been found ‘fit for work’ by a Work Capability Assessment.
Official UK Government figures show that over 17,000 people have died while waiting to hear from their PIP assessments. Independent testimony places the number much higher. The UN has identified that 14 million people in the UK live in poverty - unable to afford proper housing or food. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation highlighted that 1.5m people experienced destitution in 2017 - meaning they had less than £10 a day after housing costs, or had to go without at least two essentials such as shelter, food, heat, light, clothing or toiletries during a one-month period.
Over the last two years, we’ve become mates (online at least!) with independent journalists & activists such as Steve Topple (Evolve/The Canary) and Alex Tiffin (Universal Credit Sufferer), and we’ve continued to learn of indignities inflicted upon individuals and how the Tory Government has covered up the death toll of Universal Credit and the Work Capability Assessment scheme. When we’ve posted these stories, our community has often contributed heartbreaking stories of their own suffering.
A small selection of the stories shared with us, over the past year from our community. These stories aren't anomalies in the system - it's working as designed.
The Government doesn’t appear to care, with Esther McVey (current Tory leadership hopeful), living in daily denial of the suffering she and her predecessors at The DWP have caused, and Philip ‘the actual man-hamster’ Hammond refusing to believe that such poverty and desperation exists in the UK, whilst blaming disability claimants for the country’s economic woes.
For me this really hit home in the last year as I followed the story of one of my mates from Birmingham, Ruth Gaskin. Ruth’s a fan of our boys Too Many Ts and I met her for the first time about 5 years back at one of their gigs. I didn’t know it at the time, but she has a series of chronic, degenerative and debilitating illnesses. It means she can't walk easily without assistance, and spends most of her days on a cocktail of medications for pain management. Added to this, Ruth, (pictured below with comedian Doug Stanhope), had to fight The DWP and JobCentre Plus tooth and nail for her benefits.
Anyone who’s had to attend a JobCentre to apply for and pick up things like Jobseeker’s Allowance, ESA or anything like that will know that it’s a depressing and often dehumanising process. Job Centres are horrid places staffed by occasionally well-meaning people, who are paid appalling wages, who have to deal with mentally ill and traumatised folk - and who are woefully under-trained and under-resourced to do so. Now imagine being chronically sick, and having to deal with that. It’s a process that retraumatises and does nothing to actually aid people’s recovery - we’re not even going to get started on underfunded mental health support services are in general, especially in a city like Birmingham. The entire process, rather than helping people get better, or uplift society is instead geared towards forcing people into ‘unskilled’ jobs, (which will be eventually replaced by automation anyway), in order to profit corporations like Capita, Unum.
Now, Birmingham City Council, through a clerical error and JobCentre Plus incompetence, has determined that Ruth needs to pay back over £5,000 in housing benefit. It'll take her over a year to contest this decision, which means that she has to fight homelessness. Added to this, she's one of the hundreds of thousands of individuals who have had to fight a Government assessment that she's 'Fit For Work'. Her story isn’t unique. It’s not even rare. This is a common issue all over the UK. I refuse to sit by while this happens.
In partnership with graffer-activist VOID ONE, THTC is looking to help raise her living costs, and awareness of her situation and that of the hundreds of thousands of other individuals and families that have been stripped of their social welfare and dignity. The 'Fit For Work' project is the brainchild of VOID who started it as an act of civil disobedience against the DWP. He 'vandalised' several Job Centre sites around the Midlands, culminating in a tag on the DWP building in Birmingham City Centre - during which he was arrested by police and charged. That's a whole other amazing story which you should definitely read about on his blog.
An example of one of Harley's actions against the DWP in the West Midlands. Read more about it on his blog.
We can't help all of them - but we can certainly do our best to try. In collaboration with Birmingham graffiti artist and activist VOID ONE, we're looking to raise money for Ruth's living expenses and to contest the council. We’re doing this through our t-shirt sales, an exclusive gallery exhibition from VOID ONE, and small host of community fundraising actions. After we've raised that amount through these combined actions, the remainder will go to supporting MSUK - a charity that helps people suffering from Multiple Scelorsis in the UK.
Our goal is to help one of our mates, and raise awareness of the plight of disabled and vulnerable people being left behind in the UK.
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