In 2020, Studio 3 Arts invited me to create a new piece of public art for Barking and Dagenham. I had recently discovered an injustice (whilst in the unlikely setting of Argos) which I was determined to address. Whilst browsing cassette recorders, I noticed that customer reviews of these products on the Argos website held a common theme - all were written by claimants of Personal Independence Payments (PIP) , a social security payment for people living with long term health conditions and disabilities. This group appeared to be the major buyer of cassette players at Argos. Why?
Under the current system, to claim for PIP you must attend an 'assessment' at a consultation centre. 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.
After over a year of campaigning, the Government conceded. Though they refuse to allow recording on mobile phones during assessments, in February 2021 they made a written commitment to provide audio recording equipment at every PIP assessment centre, to enable all claimants access to a recording from their assessment. We continue to lobby the Government to ensure this promise is kept, and have produced a ‘know your rights’ booklet to inform PIP claimants about their right to a recording of their assessment.
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 wrote detailed letters to the Government (available to read below/beside) and held meetings with MPs, collaborated with other disability activists, recorded conversations on tape and played with the hissy textures, 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.
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