In 2020, Studio 3 Arts commissioned me to create a new piece of public art for Barking and Dagenham. Over the course of six months, I worked with a project group of four residents who have experienced long term ill health or disabilities, to produce an artwork through social practice, which has since developed into a political campaign...
The Bath House, 5 Arboretum Place, Barking, is home to a Personal Independence Payments (PIP) Consultation Centre. This is where people with long-term health conditions and disabilities in the surrounding area have their eligibility for social security payments assessed.
Complaints about these assessments receive frequent press coverage – a Disability News Service investigation reported that assessors ‘lied, ignored written evidence and dishonestly reported the results of physical examinations’. 73% of claimants who are refused PIP following their assessment, win their case when taken to tribunal. Capita and Independent Assessment Service, the external companies who run and profit from these assessments, have recently had their contracts renewed to continue to provide this appalling service at the taxpayers expense. So it falls on disabled benefits claimants to fight to uphold their rights in a broken system.
Evidence of what took place at the assessment is crucial for disabled people who are forced to take their case to tribunal. Yet the Department for Work and Pensions have ruled that assessments may only be recorded on CD or cassette tape. The claimant must provide two devices for this purpose, and simultaneously record the assessment on both, giving one of the CDs or tapes to the assessor immediately after the appointment. This gear costs £120, which poses an insurmountable barrier to many claimants.
With the support of Studio 3 Arts, I spoke to Barking & Dagenham residents with experience of applying for PIP, and together, we formed an action group to raise awareness, campaign, and produce a creative response. We recorded conversations on tape and played with the hissy textures, collaborated with disability activists, wrote detailed letters to the Government and held meetings with MPs, and produced an audio work for broadcast on Resonance FM. The audio work contains personal testimonies, and documents efforts to effect a rule change at a national level.
Finally, the Government conceded, and though they refused to allow recording on mobile phones during assessments, they made a written commitment in February 2021 to ensure there would be audio recording equipment available on site at every PIP assessment centre. We continue to lobby the Government to ensure this promise is kept, and have produced a ‘know your rights’ booklet to ensure PIP claimants are informed about their right to a recording of their assessment.
Project led by artist Hannah Kemp-Welch, with support from artist Kirsty Reynolds
Audio work made by: Carina Murray, Katy Rowland, Kev Walton and Pritpal Attalia.
Additional testimony from Anita Robinson. Audio production by Hannah Kemp-Welch.
Rap performed by Dauda Ladejobi with lyrics by Katy Rowland, additional lyrics by the Artivists
Poem by Kev Walton
Photography by Jimmy Lee
This project is produced by Studio 3 Arts
Thanks to the Funders of this project:
Arts Council England and the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham