On Tuesday 26th October 2010 at Speakers Corner, Hyde Park at 1300 hours, the campaigning group MAD PRIDE have organised a day of action to oppose welfare benefits cuts for people labelled Mentally Ill.
UK mental health service users and survivors will publicly assemble to re-enact the opening chapter of Michel Foucault´s seminal book ‘Discipline and Punishment’.
A life-size effigy of a prominent Conservative/ Liberal Democrat merger politician will be publicly executed by method of hanging, drawing and quartering, after which the remains of the body will be burnt. There will also be a variety of other visual and subliminal stunts on the day.
Speaking to one of the organisers of the demonstration, she told me that “the economic downturn caused by the irresponsibility of bankers and big business has led to the Coalition government to enact the biggest cuts in public services since the Second World War.
“Further, that instead of targeting bankers’ bonuses and rich people’s profits, they are hoping to make huge savings by attacking the welfare benefits of vulnerable people unable to work, including people with severe mental health problems.
“In particular, they would like the public to think that people with depression, anxiety disorders and other mental ‘illnesses’ are malingerers and scroungers – when in fact all of us find it a terrible day to day struggle just to get by.”
As we are now aware, in George Osborne’s recent emergency budget he has pledged to take 360,000 people off of Disability Living Allowance by 2013 – which will plunge over a third of a million vulnerable people, most of whom will have mental health problems, into dire poverty.
This will put lives at risk. Already, 6000 people are thought to have committed suicide a year in the UK, although the true figure is definitely far higher. The stress caused by the threat of welfare benefits cuts, as well as the impact of the material deprivation that will result, will undoubtedly lead to a huge increase in suicides amongst people with mental health problems – an outcome that members of MAD PRIDE and other survivor support groups wish to prevent through campaigning and giving each other one-to-one support.
Mike, another member of MAD PRIDE adds, “This is no time to cut benefits and services for people labelled mentally ill. Our numbers have swelled significantly over recent years because so many members of the armed forces have gone through two very long and desperately hard wars. Whatever the rights and wrongs of Iraq and Afghanistan, those conflicts have taken an exceptionally heavy toll on the mental health of so many of our brave troops.”
More cuts to disabled people’s benefits are promised in George Osborne’s upcoming ‘shock and awe’ spending review to take place on Wednesday 20th October. Added to cuts in housing benefits, the VAT rise, and a whole range of other austerity measures, the future looks grim for the poor and those less able to object or protest – whilst the bankers will get to keep their bonuses.
“We’re not taking this lying down!” is the united cry from survivor groups across the UK.
MAD PRIDE can now also announce that, also on 26th October 2010, there will be a Nationwide 24 hour medication strike.
All UK mental health service users will default on their psychiatric medication for one day, in protest against the coming welfare benefits cuts. Further, all UK mental health service users will not engage with any mental health services whatsoever on that day, in a bid to demonstrate the collective power of mental health system users and survivors everywhere.
I'm often asked to produce some artwork or a cartoon for a piece of poetry or prose that has been created by a fellow artist. This one in particular fired my imagination and made me want to share it with you.
(for Jimmy Fingers, with peace love and understanding)
The place has walls,
I can touch them if I wish,
I could no longer tell you their colour
they are the same colour as all the walls
in all the other places.
Here I wander
Here I touch and feel
Here no-one can hurt me.
Here I am reminded when to eat and sleep
by a clock
that someone else watches.
Here I say what I am thinking
Here I say what thinks me.
That is why I am here.
Here is where I remind myself I am
When here is where I am not.
Because they haven’t got a name for that
Because they haven’t got a place
for people who do things they can’t find names for.
That is why I am here.
There are growing concerns that under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 the Court of Protection has been handed sweeping powers without adequate scrutiny and openess. This departs from the general principle of open justice held by other courts.
Holding its cases behind closed doors, the Court has the power to order that people with severe learning difficulties are sterilised, undergo abortions or have life-support switched off. It can even impose “experimental” treatments on these patients without their consent.
The Act also gives the Court power to order procedures “where that procedure or treatment must be carried out using a degree of force to restrain the person concerned”.
Previously High Court judges were asked to rule whether people with severe learning difficulties in the care of health authorities and councils should undergo treatments if they believed it was in their best interests. However, these cases were held in public and could be reported by the media.
According to sources Sir Nicholas Wall, the President of the Family Division sitting in the Court of Protection, ruled last week that a woman with cancer of the uterus must receive treatment even though she has a phobia of hospitals and needles. He stated that this was because she has a learning difficulty and so was judged to be incapable of deciding on her own “best interests”.
He then allegedly ruled that doctors should be allowed to sedate the 55 year-old in her own home, using a drug hidden in a glass of squash, and then detain her in a ward following the essential treatment.
The case was only the second in the Court to be made public.
And yes, this is in England and the year is 2010!
I've recently received an email from a Disabled equality trainer in Australia asking if she could use some of my cartoons about labelling within her courses. She hadn't come across the concept before and felt that it might help her to get across the equality message to both non-disabled and disabled Australians.
"No problem" I replied, and then began to wonder if other readers of this blog in other parts of the world were as ignorant of this concept as she was. With this in mind I've recreated a simple example and cobbled together some information about the subject for you.
The concept of labelling people, especially Disabled people has been with us since early times. Then we were made to wear labels that identified us as ‘witches’ or as the ‘familiars’ of bad spirits or ‘changelings’, or, if we were lucky, as the harmless village ‘dolt’ or ‘idiot’. Although if hard times came, such as a crop failure or something equally as harmful to the community, then the ‘idiot’ often became the 'scapegoat' and was disposed of to appease the gods.
As times progressed and society became more enlightened (Ed - our American readers should note the use of irony here!) we were seen more as figures of fun and were given the labels of ‘Jester’ or ‘Fool’. Those of us with mental health issues were also allowed to entertain the nobility, but were put on display in places like Bedlam and given the labels of ‘Mad’ and ‘Insane’ regardless of our actual condition.
We were also given the label of ‘villain’ in early children’s stories, usually with an eye or a limb missing, or labelled as the ‘weak’ or ‘needy’ character whenever sentimentality or charity were portrayed by such as Charles Dickens and other writers of his time.
Following the onset of the industrial revolution we were deemed ‘worthy poor’ and allowed to beg, and some argue that this is where the label of ‘handicapped’ (cap in hand) originated. The label ‘Invalid’ also appeared about this time and literally means ‘not valid’.
The medical professionals during the 19th and 20th century, deciding that we needed repairing brought with them their own labels. These ranged from the familiar ‘idiot’ to the ‘imbecile’, the ‘feeble minded’ and the ‘moral defective’. More labels followed as they began to split us into groups of impairment, resulting in 'Mongol’ and ‘Spastic’ to name but a few.
The more subtle labels remain to this day and are still used by those groups and organisations who wish to control us and wish to separate us from society. It is mainly the charities that rely upon the power of labelling, still portraying us as ‘vulnerable’ and ‘incapable’ amongst other disempowering descriptions. The medical profession also continue to play their part, although have changed some of their labels to appear more progressive; ‘Cerebral Palsy’ replacing ‘Spastic’ and ‘Down’s Syndrome’ replacing ‘Mongolism’ for example.
Remember, labelling people is about disempowerment and only works if the person who is given the label agrees to wear it.