Independent living at risk

Sophie Partridge, John Kelly and others party outside the Dept of Work & Pensions

Some of the people that I photograph amaze me in various ways, and among the more amazing are many of those who take part in the protests organised by DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) who have regularly shown others how to organise effective and powerful protests against unfair attempts by the government to cut welfare benefits.

They have been hit much harder by various cuts in services; many have suffered from the  work capability tests – tests that were designed to be unfair and were then poorly administered largely by unqualified staff pressured by a company which had been given financial incentives to fail as many as possible.

Paula Peters speaking at the DWP

But although ATOS’s failings have received some media attention (largely thanks to DPAC’s protests) this is only a small part of what DPAC rightly describes as “a national scandal”, which they accuse mainstream media of failing to report.

They say:

“the media owes a duty to the wider public to give way to propaganda and needs to out this scandal for what it is.

1 million delayed assessments/decisions, 1.7 million appeals & 1.3 million put through the sanction regime is a collective 4 million exposed to some degree of benefit decision related chaos.  How can 4 million people locked in government backed chaos not be a national chaos? “

You can read the details on their web site,  and it is hard to disagree with their conclusions about the suffering and chaos caused “by DWP incompetence and IDS arrogance.”

Nadia tells her story with the aid of her computer – and a BSL signer relays it

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Iain Duncan Smith thought the disabled would be an easy target, unable to stand up for themselves, but how wrong he has been proved to be. Hard too not to be convinced that there has been something of an unwritten conspiracy between the newspapers and mass media and government to play down or ignore the problems that government policies are causing – and because Labour too see a need to reform the welfare system they have avoided the duty of any opposition, although a few individual politicians have stood up for the poor and disabled. Media owners and governments share various interests, are closely intertwined in various ways, depend on each other.

It isn’t because journalists have not exposed the facts, written the stories and taken the pictures, but that those who control the media have decided they are “not news”, and mainly they only get published in personal blogs and fringe publications. The BBC has lost much of its reputation for independent reporting – at least of UK events – because it seems now to be more concerned about cosying up to government to avoid losing the licence fee than speaking truth to power.

Penny Pepper reads some of her work

This protest – a tea-party on US Independence Day -was about the ending of the Independent Living Fund, which gives those who desperately need it the extra care which enables them to live in and contribute to the community.  You can read more about it in an article in The Guardian, one of the few papers that has sometimes shown an interest. But this and other stories about what is happening to so many of the poor and disabled, affecting altogether many more of the people of this country than the four million should regularly be making headlines across the media. Instead we get huge stories about wacky politicians, faded performers, unknown celebrities, footballers and their wives and the rest of the largely salacious nonsense. Even across the BBC and the so-called ‘quality press’.

Photographically there were few problems for me. It was a very crowded situation, and at times very difficult to move – even the few inches needed to frame as I would like. At times I was shoulder to shoulder with a BBC cameraman (not working for the news) and that restricted my view and I had sometimes to use a longer focal length than I would have liked to avoid his lens blocking part of the picture or a large woolly covered microphone (a ‘deadcat’) wandering into shot. Doubtless too I got in his way, but in the confined space we had to work together, and did so with no real problems.

In tight situations, the 16-35mm is a great lens to have, though just occasionally the 16mm fullframe fisheye is better. But here I didn’t really have that option when I wanted to use it, both because the guy with the TV camera would have occupied too much of one side of the frame, but for a much simpler reason – there just wasn’t the space to get into my camera bag and to change a lens, we were so squashed together.

I hung around at the end of the official end of the protest at the DWP because I knew something else was likely to happen, having been given a hint by one of the organisers. I didn’t know what this would be, but wasn’t surprised when around half of the protesters decided to block nearby Victoria St – the busiest road nearby.

At the front of a queue of traffic held up by the protesters in front of Westminster Abbey was a number 88 bus, headed for Clapham Common. At last I thought, the message is getting through to the “man on the Clapham omnibus”. I’d thought too that the direct action might involve Westminster Abbey, who had called in police to turn away DPAC protesters the previous Saturday.

The protest did however take the police by surprise and it was a few minutes before they arrived and started to divert traffic away. At one point they got protesters to clear a path though one of the two carriageways for an ambulance – but it never arrived, though I think it more likely that it had been diverted than that this was police subterfuge.

You can read more about the protest and see the rest of my pictures at Independent Living Tea party


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.