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Posts Tagged ‘social security’

I’ve always loved cinemas. I’m drawn to them. They are places of comfort. It stems from an early age. I much prefer the old picture palaces over the current industrial prefabs, but any cinema will still pull upon my soul and drag me in. Whenever I’m in a new town I ‘have’ to find out what cinemas still operate or still stand. I am part way through a photographic study of surviving Picture Palaces, be they still in use as cinemas or not. They are my cathedrals.

‘Kes’ was the first film I ever saw, at a cinema, as an unaccompanied child. The cinema was The Essoldo, on King William Street, in Blackburn, long before it was split up into several, smaller, screens.

I’m sorry Ken but I owe you the cost of the ticket as I snuck in through the fire exit.

My parents had noted my interest in animals and had encouraged this, believing that it was important in the development of empathy. They would take me to see films like ‘Born Free’, which I loved. In addition, we made visits to the library to borrow books on nature.

In 1969 a film called ‘Kes’ arrived at the aforementioned cinema. I had seen a copy of a book, upon which it was based, called ‘A Kestrel For Knave’, about a young lad hand rearing a bird of prey. Naturally, I was attracted to this particular film because of its subject matter. Sadly, on this occasion, my parents could not afford to take me but I was desperate to see it. I had heard stories about how easy it was to get into the Essoldo via a back door and, as luck would have it, said stories were true.

Yes, I know – perhaps it wasn’t lessons in empathy that I needed but rather a Casper style caning and a stern lecture on why sneaking into a cinema isn’t a victimless crime.

‘Kes’ made a huge impression upon me for it was the first time that I saw, and heard, people like myself upon the cinema screen. ‘Born Free’ and films of that type all featured people from another class, who spoke ‘posh’ not ‘common’. The characters that populated ‘Kes’ attended schools similar to mine, lived in places I recognised, they spoke like me, like my friends, like my parents. I could identify with them.

47 years later, on a Sunday afternoon, I find myself in a London cinema attending a screening of the latest film, by the director of ‘Kes’Ken Loach and written by Paul Laverty called ‘I, Daniel Blake’.

I ‘did’ purchase my tickets this time Ken.

Before I talk about the film itself I want to share with you what the atmosphere felt like in the cinema after the film had ended. Usually, when a film ends, people are keen to get away and rarely stay to see the end credits. There are buses or tube trains to catch or visits to the bar or toilet to be made.

It wasn’t to be in this case. No one moved away from their seats as the end credits rolled. The theatre lights went up and fell upon the audience exposing an emotional involvement, that could no longer be hidden by the darkness, the lengthy end credits hadn’t been of sufficient time to allow people to compose themselves.

The silence was broken by embarrassed shuffling as tears were either suppressed or in full flow. Heads were held downwards, few wanted to make eye contact. It seemed as if no one wanted to be the one to make the first move and leave their seat. Thankfully, the exit doors were opened by a cinema attendant wanting to clear the auditorium for the next screening and people took this as licence to exit.

No one spoke as they did so.

When did a film last do that? When did you last cry at a film, unable to stop yourself?

On the technical side I am fascinated that Loach, and cinematographer Robbie Ryan, shot ‘I, Daniel Blake’ on 35mm film, via Arricam ST cameras, using Zeiss Master Prime Lenses. In this day and age of digital appropriation one would have thought that Loach might have been tempted to use the digital medium and the freedoms that might afford, especially given the use of amateur actors. It is testament to his skills and his confidence, both in his own abilities and that of his cast and crew, that Loach stuck with film. In doing so ‘I, Daniel Blake’ has the feel of ‘Kes’ and that is a wonderful thing. Like ‘Kes’, the film has a ‘texture’ that adds to the aesthetic nature of the experience.

Loach has struck gold with his two leads. They have terrific chemistry, keeping you fixed upon them. You identify with them. You want to know them. They break your heart.

DAVE JOHNS, a stand up comic and actor, plays Daniel. A down to earth, lovable, caring chap of whom we all know at least one. In fact, he reminded me of my late father. A man who was far more intelligent than the qualifications he lacked and had a heart far bigger than his meagre bank account. In addition to my love of films and reading, I owe much of my politics to that decent chap.

HAYLEY SQUIRES, an actress and playwright, takes the role of Katie. A homeless, single mother sent miles away from her community and children’s schools. A character whose eyes speak far louder than any of the words that come from her mouth. Squires performance is heartbreaking, real, raw and so bloody human.

It is to the credit of Loach as a filmmaker that he does not go for an easy target and demonised all who work at the DWP, rather instead showing that some go out of their way to try and help, but they are themselves crushed by the system. Such people are also victims of this government’s pernicious welfare policies.

Once upon a time, your local DWP office and Job Centre was a place where help and advice could be sought and it would be freely given, without threats, without sanctions. You would not be belittled, humiliated, demoralised.

Everything is now down to the ‘The Decision Maker’. An unseen overlord who would not be out of place in a dystopian science fiction movie.

I expect soon that the new monster in ‘Dr Who’ will be called ‘The Decision Maker’

‘Forget The Daleks! Forget The Master! The Doctor faces his greatest enemy. For he may be a Time Lord but this time he is up against The Decision Maker.’

People, especially with mental health concerns, are sanctioned simply for exhibiting the symptoms of their diagnosis. Indeed, it seems that the system is designed to ensure said symptoms present themselves so that they can be used against the claimant to terminate a discussion or even a claim.

It is hard not to become emotionally involved in the viewing of ‘I Daniel Blake’ and hence so it is that, due to personal experiences, it is hard to review the film completely detached. Especially when you have experienced some of what happens upon the screen. The inevitable, forewarned, outcomes may seem dramatic cliché to those who either haven’t experienced them, or simply have an ideological reason to push them as cliché in an attempt to undermine them, but they are damn real to those who have experienced them or know those who have.

As one who is both disabled and a carer, and who has volunteered helping people who find themselves in a similar position to the films main characters, I can testify to the accuracy of how the system is depicted within ‘I, Daniel Blake’. I can confirm the feelings of frustration felt at simply trying to get yourself heard, to feel listened to when dealing with the DWP process. Likewise, I can unashamedly state that I feel fear whenever a brown envelope is pushed through my letterbox.

Such is the fear felt at the changes being made by this government, the person I care for has made two attempts upon their life that required lengthy stays in hospital. The medical team and Mental Health Crisis Team all stated that such actions are becoming increasingly common. Such is the fear felt by those being targeted by Government.

It has been an interesting experience to read attempts, by those who support such pernicious policies, to criticise this film in the hope of undermining its message. They also have a vested interest, they are also emotionally involved.

I have always experienced abuse, of varying levels, directed at my disability, but I have noted an increase over the past few years. It has also changed somewhat in nature. It can’t be a stretch of the imagination to say that media and government ‘scrounger’ and ‘faker’ rhetoric, designed to nudge acceptance of pernicious policies, is the cause.

One only has to read Toby Young’s attempt to undermine the film’s message in the Daily Mail to see an example…

“I dare say some were men like Daniel Blake, who were wrongly assessed. But the vast majority should never have been receiving disability benefit.”

Of course Toby, of course! You have no proof, no understanding of what goes on, but you are happy to further fuel the narrative that most disabled people are not genuine. This is, for a man in his position, totally irresponsible and dangerous. Toby is big on personal responsibility, so he shouldn’t be surprised if I hold people such as himself personally responsible for contributing to a climate that feeds disability abuse.

I wrote about my daily experiences and my thoughts as to why they occur in an article here.

The aforementioned ‘man with an opinion’ Toby Young tries hard to negate the impact of the film. He fails, but he does succeed in making himself look rather silly.  Can he really have watched the film? He claims that its running time is 140 minutes rather than its 100 minute duration. He asks questions that, ‘if’ he had watched the film or at least paid attention, he would have found answered by said film.

Young claims…

“…it is dishonest to suggest, as the film does, that Daniel couldn’t appeal until a so-called ‘decision-maker’ had called him. Employment and Support Allowance claimants are entitled to appeal as soon as they get the letter telling them their application has been turned down.”

No, Toby. Daniel could not simply appeal, he did indeed have to first wait for the call from the ‘decision-maker’. The film is correct, you are in error. And no, Toby. Daniel could not simply appeal as soon as his ESA rejection letter arrived. Again, the film is correct and you are in error – again!

This is because the architect of much of the horror YOU support Toby, the lamentable Iain Duncan Smith introduced ‘The Mandatory Reconsideration’.

Now why did he do this?

Because, upon seeing that the number of people who made an appeal were actually winning their appeals, because they were indeed genuine, what did he do? Did he say ‘Hmm, there must be something wrong with the process if so many are winning on appeal. Let us take a look at it to make it fairer?’

No. Iain Duncan Smith introduced another layer of bureaucracy, the aforementioned – mandatory reassessment. You cannot appeal until this mandatory reassessment has been undertaken. In which time you, like Daniel, are in limbo. Told by your trained, experienced, medical experts that you should not work, that doing so could endanger your health and even take your life, all this is overruled by some chiropractor ‘retrained’ and I use that phrase loosely, to become an HCP. These HCP can overrule all the medical evidence in 10 minutes – Oh I’m sorry, what am I thinking, it isn’t the HCP but the Decision Maker.

Toby then moves onto the plight Katy finds herself in…

“What about poor Katie? Is it likely she’d be reduced to selling her body to buy her daughter a new pair of school shoes? Hardly. A single mother with two children typically gets more than £200 a week in state hand-outs and her rent would normally be covered by housing benefit. School shoes from Tesco cost around £10.”

Again, all explained there in the film you ‘said’ you watched Toby. Katie had been sanctioned!

Now, Toby. Let us be totally clear as to what a sanction is. ‘I, Daniel Blake’ clearly shows the impact of a sanction. It is a young mother choosing between eating food herself or feeding her children. Toby, the woman depicted within ‘I, Daniel Blake’, like so many women, so many parents in this pitiful, unnecessary, inhumane situation, display far more courage than you will ever know. I would not wish such experiences upon you.

A sanction is the threat of starvation, of eviction, of homelessness. It is BLACKMAIL, it is state terrorism. We do not threaten to starve those found guilty of murder, they are also not denied fair trial and representation. We also do not incarcerate innocent members of said persons family. But the state does all this to a claimant and their family. The state punishes the children because they are also starved for a ‘crime’ they certainly did not commit.

Young concludes by saying…

“But don’t call it ‘social realism’. Judging by its misty-eyed, laughably inaccurate portrait of benefits Britain, it should be called a ‘romantic comedy’.

In those two sentences Toby Young attempts to negate the experiences, the pain, of so many people. It is accurate Toby, you only have to listen to those who live it, but then you know it to be accurate. Let us not be under any illusion that what the likes of Young want is a reasoned debate. Far from it, furthering their own pernicious ideology is what they aim for and this film, and the audience it is getting, endangers that pursuit.

The only honest thing in Young’s hate filled rant is when he says…

 ‘I’m no expert on the welfare system…’

Bernadette Meaden, amongst others, has brought up Toby Young on his many ‘errors’ but he is isn’t willing to really engage, to correct, to see just how dangerous said ‘errors’ are.

Now the attacks upon the film, from the likes of Camilla Long, Young etc, rather than hurt the film, actually display the strength of ‘I, Daniel Blake’ and show it to be a work of great importance. The honesty scares the likes of Young and Iain Duncan Smith. It is the nail that has to be hammered down and they are desperate to do so.

Iain Duncan Smith is already attempting to rewrite history on his involvement, as he usually does when things he has had a hand in go wrong.

I have been critical of many a government before, but I had NEVER, until the Conservatives came into power in 2010, been scared of my Government. When I cried at ‘I, Daniel Blake’ the tears erupted out of a sense of relief. For here, finally, on the screen was something that actually understood the pain of the experiences I, and many like me, have endured over the past 6 years. The anxiety, the sleepless nights, the damn FEAR for the future.

I will be eternally grateful to Ken Loach, and his creative team, for having made this film. For offering up a much needed counter to the hateful onslaught directed at us. It is an important film. It shows the reality of the situation for many disabled people and carers. It shows the reality of what many like ‘me’ have faced over the past six years.

‘Kes’ was one of the films that made me want to tell stories, to make narratives – be they through the lens of a camera, on a page or on stage.

‘I, Daniel Blake’ has re-energised that desire.

Christopher John Ball is, along with Dean Sipling, co-author of the play Throwing Stones – ‘What’s in your family album?’ Order your copy today from Amazon

“Mid-life male photographer meets young, nubile female student-cum-artistic muse – so far it’s old hat. But photographer turned playwright Christopher John Ball and co-writer Dean Sipling, whose background is film and television, bring the pairing into a thoroughly contemporary world of intercepted emails, sinister insinuation and sharp retorts. Their ‘guilty until proved innocent’ plot … is thoroughly watchable and believable – perhaps as a result of Ball’s professional insights and DS Dom Lucas’ services as police advisor to the production” Barbara Lewis – The Stage

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‘And now the wheels of heaven stop
you feel the devil’s riding crop
Get ready for the future,
it is murder’ – The Future by Leonard Cohen

I will never forget that night. I found my beloved partner on the floor. She had made a makeshift bed for herself and was surrounded by her favourite JellyCat soft toy dogs. She takes these everywhere with her; a source of comfort. I froze for a moment as I saw the empty packets of medication and then the note she had left for me.

Then the adrenaline kicked in and I desperately tried to remember the first aid courses I had undertaken. I checked her breathing. It was there, just. I checked her airways for blockages. There were none I could find. I couldn’t rouse her and I was concerned that the position she was in wasn’t helping her breathing. So I moved her into a more suitable position. As I did this, I heard a loud crack. It came from within me. My hip had decided this was the appropriate moment to partially dislocate as it is want to do at times. Usually I feel this a LOT but the adrenaline must have kept the pain at bay. I grabbed my phone and called 999.

The emergency services are brilliant. I was told an ambulance was on its way and the person on the phone stayed with me to reassure me. She kept me busy by having me count my partner’s breathing. I also collected all the packets of medication that I could find so an idea could be had as to how much had been taken and what kind. The door bell rang; the ambulance had arrived. At this point I was reminded about the state of my dislocated hip. The pain hit, hard! The ambulance crew were greeted with a torrent of swearing as I painfully manoeuvred my hip back into place. Another crack; there back in place.

After spending the night in emergency my partner was moved to an ITU bed. She was to stay there, unconscious, for a week. I phoned the hospital and visited at every opportunity hoping for news as to her progress. I brought up her favourite JellyCat dog to be with her. Don’t tell the other dogs but she does have a favourite.

It was heartbreaking to see her in that ITU bed with drips, medical machinery and tubes down her throat to assist breathing. I shall never shake that image.

Strange thoughts go through one’s head at times like these. Well they did mine. For some reason, I thought that I was going to get ‘told off’ by my partner for getting her medical attention. This thought was intense. I couldn’t rid myself of it. I really thought I was in trouble.

Thankfully, my lovely partner finally did wake up, and was later moved to another ward. She had contracted pneumonia due to fluids entering her lungs as she went into one of several seizures whilst in emergency. This had also resulted in some damage to her brain, though the medical staff thought this would rectify itself.

Suicide is a complicated issue and there are often many reasons involved that might build up to cause an individual to consider or carry out an attempt upon their own life. It is important to note that my partner had recently received a letter from the DWP in reference to her ESA claim. She was to face another reassessment and this scared her, indeed it weighed heavily upon her mind. As my partner said to both myself and the Crisis Team, that DWP letter, well, ‘it didn’t help’.

I spoke to many Doctors, staff at the Crisis Team and social workers, who worked with my partner, and they all stated that this is happening far more than is being reported. The fear is real and felt by many. These ‘reforms’ are having huge negative impact and causing harm. I have read several cases of suicide attempts and deaths linked to these damn ‘reforms’ but I never thought that that it would hit so close to home.

In addition to the cuts disabled and carers are facing, there is also the real fear of the, now, infamous sanctions regime.

My partner lives with severe mental health concerns. She has great difficulty reading, interacting and communicating with others. People frighten her.

She fears that she would end up sanctioned simply for exhibiting the symptoms of her diagnosis. The presentation of her symptoms could easily be misunderstood, or even exploited, by DWP staff intent on their quota of sanctions. Yes, we hear claims that there are no quotas but who believes Iain Duncan Smith or Esther McVey? Lying comes as easy to that pair of irresponsible, reckless Ministers as breathing.

I stated above that suicide is rarely about one issue but this must not be taken, by any supporter of the Coalition welfare ‘reforms’, as mitigation or an attempt to dismiss the impact of the ‘reforms’ upon my partner. Fear of these ‘reforms’, fear of the arrival of the next brown envelope from the DWP, played a major role within the reasoning behind her actions. As she said, ‘It didn’t help’.

These ‘reforms’ have been both cruel and unnecessary; an added extra burden, and worry, upon people who already have a lot to contend with as it is.

Now, we hear that we are to face a further £12Bn in cuts should David Cameron, and his Conservative Party, be elected on Thursday. This fills me with dread. My partner and I barely survived the past five years. The attacks never seem to stop. We have also faced an increase is disability related abuse. I describe this abuse in an article here.

One can never seem to draw breath before the next letter from the DWP arrives. Your heart stops in fear as you see it pushed through the letterbox. You hold your breath as you open it. What bad news will it bring? What fresh horror has Iain Duncan Smith seen fit to dump upon you today?

For many, the Social Security ‘reforms’, and their impact, are the straw that broke the camels back. To repeat, as I think it very important, my partner said, ‘It didn’t help’. In truth they are not helping because they are not designed to do so. These pernicious ‘reforms’ are designed, on first principle, simply to save money.

The Conservative Party want to place the Social Security safety net so close to the ground that it renders it useless, even fatal. You may not need it now, but you do not know what is around the corner. Can you really afford to lose its protection?

My own health has also been impacted by Iain Duncan Smith’s awful legacy. My Doctor is having to, not only treat the symptoms associated with my existing, deteriorating disability, he is now looking to the stress based illnesses I find myself with. My blood pressure is through the roof, blood has been found where it shouldn’t be and the additional stress is playing havoc with my chronic pain and state of mind. I worry that I may become too ill to act as carer for my partner, and I worry what will happen to her in the future. I worry about not being able to work. I worry, worry all of the time. I have difficulty sleeping due to constant worry, constant stress.

I never used to worry like this. I was always a glass half full ‘kinda’ guy. When I worked in education, I was often ‘named tutor’, and looked to the pastoral care of my students. I was the one with the answers; the person they turned to for solutions. Well, things change and, I am not ashamed to admit that, I now find myself going through counselling. Thanks Mr Cameron, thanks Mr Clegg, thanks for nothing.

My partner has been expressing fears again. She is deeply worried that the Conservatives will return to power and enact further hurt. She has talked about taking her life again, should they do. She is classed as ‘high risk’ by her medical specialists and they are offering what help they can with limited resources.

I have been critical of many a government before but this Coalition of Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have been the first government that I have been scared of. The first government to put me in fear of, both, my and my partner’s health and future. Is this really a fairer society?

I am terrified at the thought of David Cameron and the Conservative Party being returned to power.

By the way, in case you are wondering. I wasn’t told off by my partner.

Christopher John Ball is, along with Dean Sipling, co-author of the play Throwing Stones – ‘What’s in your family album?’ Order your copy today from Amazon

“Mid-life male photographer meets young, nubile female student-cum-artistic muse – so far it’s old hat. But photographer turned playwright Christopher John Ball and co-writer Dean Sipling, whose background is film and television, bring the pairing into a thoroughly contemporary world of intercepted emails, sinister insinuation and sharp retorts. Their ‘guilty until proved innocent’ plot … is thoroughly watchable and believable – perhaps as a result of Ball’s professional insights and DS Dom Lucas’ services as police advisor to the production” Barbara Lewis – The Stage

2015 will see the publication of three monographs featuring fine art photography by Christopher John Ball. Watch this blog for further details.

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boots_2015_MINI_3“Asylums with doors open wide,
Where people had paid to see inside,
For entertainment they watch his body twist,
Behind his eyes he says, ‘I still exist.’” – Atrocity Exhibition – Joy Division

It is sad to say that many of us who have a disability or impairment will be able to recall experiences of having been bullied, picked on, singled out and abused, both verbally and physically, as we go about our lives. Would it be fair to say that we often take this abuse as being a ‘normal’ part of our daily routine, experiences that we have perhaps come to expect and, in the eyes of many as I will explain, something we should ‘put up’ with?

The ‘incident’ that inspired this article occurred on Saturday 14th March 2015. My partner and I were waiting to catch a train to Euston from Watford High Street Overground Station. The station was crowded, it being a football day, so we tried to stand in an area where we would not be jostled. It became clear to me that a group of lads within the crowd were discussing my disability. As usual, I tried to ignore the attention but I became very uneasy when other ‘fans’ were deliberately made aware and brought into the ‘joke’. Finally, the staring and comments became far too much and I addressed them saying, ‘It may come as a surprise but I do have feelings.’ This brought the usual denials and laughter etc. One lad offered, as mitigation, that they were all drunk and insisted that I should make allowances for that. In addition he added the usual excuse of, ‘it was only a joke’.

A few minutes later, I noticed my partner move between myself and those involved. She was showing signs of distress and unease. It seems that this group of lads had decided to make images of my orthopaedic boots and disability, possibly for later amusement and my partner had been trying to get in the way of their camera phones. I think, also, that a member of Overground staff had become aware of the situation because, though he didn’t say anything, he came over and seemed to be watching events.

Finally, the train arrived. Sadly, this was not to be an escape, as they boarded the same carriage and the atmosphere became somewhat unpleasant, to say the least. My partner finds such incidents especially difficult as she lives with severe mental health issues and, on this occasion, she became very upset. In fact, the situation was having a terrible impact upon her state of mind. Tears were streaming down her face, to their amusement, as she cried uncontrollably. I knew I had to get her away from this and I took the decision to leave the train at the very first opportunity. We disembarked at the next station, Bushey. In other words, we had travelled only one stop from the start of our journey, from Watford High Street, and would now have to wait 20 minutes for the next train. The sight of my partner, tightly clutching the hand support pole, head leaning against it, sobbing her heart out, will stick with me far longer than the memory of a group of idiots mocking me.

I wish I could say that this is an isolated incident, I really do. But I cannot. In fact, I would be lying to both myself and you, the reader, if I were to do so. It would appear that the combination of the stick, a very large orthopaedic boot, pronounced limp and my often pained expression, which I like to think of as being somewhat romantic, rather Byronesque, are what seem to attract this unwanted daily attention.

I have a very strong sense of humour and am in no way lacking in self esteem or confidence, but I have to admit that it does sometimes grind me down and sap my confidence. At times I have felt so intimidated that I have altered plans, changed my journey or return path, not entered, or have left, an establishment so as to escape the unwanted attention. The incident on the Overground station is not the first time I have felt so uneasy, uncomfortable or threatened, that I have felt the need to leave the train carriage.

These frequent incidents of disabilism are insidious, stressful, uncomfortable, tiring and can often be, even for one as confident as I, threatening.

Further examples from past incidents include being pressed against a wall, by a group, intent on taking off my orthopaedic boot. One guy who, upon seeing my orthopaedic boot, ‘demanded’ that I get up and walk along the tube carriage because he ‘wanted’ to see how I walked upon it – he no doubt went on to establish a career at either ATOS or Maximus. I have experienced people kicking my shoe to see what it was made of. On one occasion, whilst out enjoying a drink in a pub, one group of individuals wanted to ask me questions so as to settle a bet. They had been arguing about the size of my foot, did it fill the whole shoe? Was that the shape of my foot? They ‘demanded’ that I take it off so that they could look at my foot to settle said wager; they seemed put out and were clearly most upset at my reluctance to participate.

Sadly the incident at Watford High Street Station was not the first time camera phones have been directed towards my orthopaedic boot. On a visit to Luton Shopping Mall, I had my stick kicked away whilst others within the group filmed my fall. Fortunately, I had a friend with me and I did report it to security staff at the Mall who were excellent when it came to offering support. I have had popcorn and drink cartons thrown at me, in combination with jokes made at the expense of my disability, whilst out at the cinema. OK the film was rubbish, my own fault I suppose for what else was I expecting from a Michael Bay film? It seems that further entertainment had to be found and I was to provide it. If I remember correctly, I think it occurred during one of the films few ‘boring talkie bits’. Thankfully, a rather decent chap intervened and the staff at the cinema arrived to sort matters out.

Such incidents are not uncommon but perhaps they are at the more extreme level. Often it is the ‘lower scale’ daily attention that cuts deepest. Simply walking along a Tube platform can be compared to the scenes in Spaghetti Westerns where the eyes of the townsfolk are all upon the stranger as he rides into town. All too often, whilst out on the street, I will have people walking towards me and mimicking my limp, and we are not talking about children here. I do find it somewhat tedious as they rarely win any prizes for originality, all too often I face a Quasimodo or Richard the Third impersonation as I approach.

I have stood outside many a restaurant, reading a menu, and have had people, looking out of the window of said restaurant, point, comment amongst themselves and even laugh at my orthopaedic boot. I now have to make a choice. Do I go into the restaurant and pass through the gauntlet or go elsewhere. I have done both.

Only a few days ago, whilst awaiting a friend who I had agreed to meet outside Camden Tube Station, I attracted the attention of a large group of people who thought it fine to not only loudly discuss my disability but also to mock it. To make matters worse, they brought over ‘friends’ to share the entertainment. Perhaps, I missed a trick, maybe I should have placed a hat on the floor to collect coins. To my relief, my friend soon appeared. She said, she was aware that something was going on, as she approached.

I often find myself being ‘interrogated’ by total strangers as to the nature of my disability. Weighted questions abound such as ‘What is ‘wrong’ with your foot?’

When I have tried to calmly explain how their taunts upset me, that they have had their fun and I am now finding it uncomfortable, I am told to grow a thicker skin or develop a sense of humour. Again, would this be considered an acceptable suggestion if the attack had been based upon race, gender or sexual orientation? But, what am I thinking. Of course it is far easier for them that I grow a thicker skin than it is for those who taunt to show respect or empathy. It does often seem that the onus is on the targeted to accept events without question.

We would, rightly, be disgusted with someone who made taunts at an individual because of race, creed, gender or sexual orientation but there does not seem to be the same level of outrage at mimicry of an individual’s disability. We would not expect such incidents to be passed off as ‘just a joke’ or helpfully suggest that those targeted ‘grow a thicker skin’

My favourite comment, often made, when I have finally had enough of the stares and comments, telling them I am finding it uncomfortable, is, ‘What are you looking at?’ It really is all about the ownership of the gaze. They feel that they own it and I, the one being objectified, am to be denied it or deprived of it.

In choosing the intended target, a calculation has been made, that said ‘target’ will be ‘submissive’ and ‘will accept’ their role. A ‘safe target’ for their ‘play’. One that will offer no resistance or if resistance is offered, then it has been calculated, and that it will be delivered in a manner that further contributes to the ‘fun’.

For some reason, I ‘feel’ the need to state that I am not talking about the odd curious look that all people find themselves doing. It is often without thought or malice, when something passes their line of sight that ‘doesn’t fit’ – or am I making allowances again? I am used to an audience and attention due to my work having been exhibited and performed over the years. I have lectured, spoken in public, appeared on TV. As stated, I am not lacking in either confidence or self esteem; I am no shrinking violet and I am not easily intimidated.

No, I must stress that I am referring to the lengthy stares, the conversations about my disability or the equipment I use to get around, that make no attempt to involve me, and comments that carry on beyond the point where I have made them aware, and they know, that I am uncomfortable.

In responding, I have to ‘choose my battles carefully’ for there are risks of further escalation should I speak up. In refusing to accept the ‘roles of objectified’ or ‘abject’ as expected in this enforced narrative, I have to pay a price for changing the script, for adlibbing or ‘breaking the fourth wall’. I am to be passive within their narrative of objectification. Any deviation, on my part, from the path not only spoils the fun but can be seen as a threat.

To explore the ‘threat’ I seem to pose, I find it useful to draw upon Julia Kristeva’s concept of abjection, an idea that relates to a primary psychological force of rejection, and apply it to how we are, as disabled people, objectified within society; making us ‘strangers’ in our own world.

Kristeva has theorised that the sight of an individual with a disability may create anxiety within those who are not themselves disabled. Perhaps what I am experiencing is that anxiety presenting itself as hostility?

For Kristeva, the abject refers to an observer’s reaction to a threatened breakdown in the meaning of the self for the self. This is caused by the loss of the distinction between subject and object or between the ‘self’ and the ‘other’. Whereas the primary example for what causes such a reaction would be a corpse, traumatically reminding the observer of their own mortality and materiality, it could equally be applied to that of viewing and reacting to disability. The ‘abject’ being in complete contrast to Jacques Lacan’s ‘objet petit a’ or ‘object of desire’. The ‘abject’ being a pollutant that can, if allowed in, harm the bloodline.

Barbara Creed stated in her 1993 book ‘The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis’ (published by Routledge):

“The place of the abject is where meaning collapses, the place where I am not. The abject threatens life, it must be radically excluded from the place of the living subject, propelled away from the body and deposited on the other side of an imaginary border which separates the self from that which threatens the self”

I’m an object to be ‘viewed’ not a human being to ‘interact’ with for fear of contamination. When I don’t respond or, if I respond as ‘anticipated’, their world is ‘safe’ but, if I address them, as an equal, their world starts to fall apart. I am no longer the ‘passive’ abject and therein lies the danger, for both myself and them.

In responding, the object (in this case ‘little old me’) becomes ‘real’; a sharper reminder that ‘they’ could become ‘me’. I must be put back in place, returned to their zone of comfort, back to being an object, safety in objectification, where I can pollute no more.

To speak up, to refuse to play by the rules, to deny them their ‘rights of ownership’ of the ‘gaze’ can have repercussions. It grieves me to say that my partner has been assaulted, both verbally and physically, all because she dared to defend me by remonstrating with those who have either attacked me or mocked my disability whilst out in the street. We have both experienced being spat upon. The act of spitting not only displays contempt for the targeted but can also be seen as an action intended to free oneself from the impact of a pollution by expelling it back onto the pollutant.

Do I report such incidents? Well I have done on occasion, especially the most serious, but to be honest they happen on such a regular basis that, if I were to report each one, I would never be out of the offices of the relevant authorities.

Now I have experienced this ‘objectification’ throughout my life but I have noticed that it has increased over the past few years. I have looked at possible reasons. Is it because I live in London and being a big place, with a large population, I am more likely to be exposed to more people? Well, I have lived in London for some 20+ years now and have never known it to be as bad. In addition, I have attracted the same attention whenever my job has taken me to other places within the UK.

It is true that my disability/health has deteriorated resulting in my limp becoming more pronounced and my orthopaedic boot has had to be made much larger in an effort to compensate. Of course this may well be a factor as to why the attention has increased; I dare say it has played a very large part. Though, this may offer some explanation, it doesn’t mitigate those involved.

Whilst the frequency has increased so to has the tone and nature of the incidents. I have noted that, in many of these altercations, when I have asked the person/s to stop, they will often, at some point, make an unfavourable reference directed towards welfare. It has been made plain to me that ‘my taxes pay for you’. Now, where has this come from? It wasn’t something that I encountered before. I believe that much of this has been fuelled by the scrounger rhetoric being pushed by Government as a means to ‘nudge’ people into accepting, indeed wanting, the ‘reforms’ despite them not being in their own interest.

I believe that Ministers, MP’s and many within the media are well aware of what they are doing; are aware of the pernicious impact upon disabled individuals like myself and, as such, cannot claim unintended consequences.

Not once has the Department of Works and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, corrected the Press or called them out on the language used. Indeed nor has, to the best of my knowledge, any of the FOUR people to hold the office of Coalition Minister for Disabled People. One would have thought that defending disabled people and carers from such lies would have been a basic part of the job specification. Maria Miller, Esther McVey, Mike Penning and the current Minister, Mark Harper, all seemed more than happy for the public to believe, for example, that disability benefit fraud is on a large scale when the true figures are very low indeed.

Some within the Coalition Government have ‘fabricated’ data – one example is that of the Conservative Chairman, Grant Shapps, who was later rebuked by the UK Statistics Authority for stating that:

‘”nearly a million people” (878,300) on incapacity benefit had dropped their claims, rather than face a new medical assessment for its successor, the employment and support allowance.’

This rebuke came too late to stop falsehoods, pushed out by Grant Shapps and Iain Duncan Smith, from being picked up by the press and run as true stories that demonstrate disabled people to be fraudsters and/or scroungers. Such actions work against disabled people and carers and can fuel resentment against us and, one would have thought, that they would not form part of a ‘responsible’ Government.

Whilst the ‘war on scroungers’ may not be the sole reason or inspiration, after all fear of disability and the disabled goes back a long time, it has certainly, based upon the nature and tone of some of my experiences at least, given succour to those who mock disability. It offers a diversion, an excuse or means of mitigation when confronted. Government has placed scapegoating at the heart of its economic and social policy; it is what drives much of it, therefore its consequences surely cannot have come as a surprise to the Ministers and MP’s involved.

What chance do we have, when it is thought appropriate, for a local Conservative Party Twitter account, to make fun of disability during an election campaign? What message does this send out if not to give legitimacy to those who mock disabled people as they go about their lives?

The thin veneer of protection that civilisation brings is easy to break, especially in times of hardship, and Government austerity policy has served to do just that.

It can be difficult; one doesn’t like to admit to being targeted in such manner. To being seen as vulnerable or a victim. I see myself as neither, but, this article hasn’t been easy to write. I have felt exposed in doing so.

I stated above that I have reported some incidents, but not all, for fear of never being out of the police station. In taking this action, by not reporting them, have I made a mistake? I am coming to the conclusion that perhaps I have. The London Evening Standard reported, on the 15th April 2015, under the headline, ‘Revealed: ‘Shocking’ rise in race hate crimes on railways and the Tube’:

‘The most common reports of racially or religiously aggravated crimes related to incidents causing harassment, alarm or distress, with 1,069 in this category last year.’

If I, and other disabled people whom I have talked to who have also noticed an increase, had reported more of these incidents then they would have shown up in official figures. I regret not doing so now and I will endeavour to report any future abuse.

The act of seeing and being seen are powerful weapons that, unless we each take steps to regain sovereignty, will be increasingly turned against each of us.

For as Søren Kierkegaard stated “Once you label me, you negate me”

Christopher John Ball is, along with Dean Sipling, co-author of the play Throwing Stones – ‘What’s in your family album?’ Order your copy today from Amazon

“Mid-life male photographer meets young, nubile female student-cum-artistic muse – so far it’s old hat. But photographer turned playwright Christopher John Ball and co-writer Dean Sipling, whose background is film and television, bring the pairing into a thoroughly contemporary world of intercepted emails, sinister insinuation and sharp retorts. Their ‘guilty until proved innocent’ plot … is thoroughly watchable and believable – perhaps as a result of Ball’s professional insights and DS Dom Lucas’ services as police advisor to the production” Barbara Lewis – The Stage

2015 will see the publication of three monographs featuring fine art photography by Christopher John Ball. Watch this blog for further details.

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