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Colin Hambrook urges DAO readers to interact with Liz Crow's Bedding Out / 1 August 2013

In the run-up to taking Bedding Out to the Edinburgh Fringe from 9-10 August,  Liz Crow has been busy taking the many thousands of messages in tweets made during the last performance in April at Salisbury Arts Centre and formatting the conversations as a downloadable resource divided into topics ranging from talking about labels and identity, the reality of our lives as disabled people, the welfare system, propaganda and campaigning. You can find these if you scroll down the Bedding Out page on the Roaring Girl website and find the link labelled Twitter Conversations.

Reading through the tweets you see peoples' identities emerge in a context of dealing with the contradictions that current welfare reform faces disabled people with. There is a strong sense of isolated people making connections and expressing outrage at having to deal with having been demonised more and more effectively over the past few years.

So, for example @MYHeardRadio begins a conversation by saying “we've moved away from the fragile dignity afforded by the care/welfare system, towards justifying our existence?” “How has it happened” s/he asks “that in the UK folks think it's actually OK for sick and disabled people to need to justify and 'defend' their needs?”@Kitschmonkey responds with a statement affirming a right to existence: “Identity becomes eroded through illness, and further by how we are viewed by public. I am not a victim. I am a whole person.” @RGPLizCrow follows the thread with a statement about the kinds of games disabled people get caught up in as a result of the pressure to present a contradictory sense of self. “I wear a public self that is energetic, dynamic and happening, I am also ill. I conceal it carefully,” she says. @tippyscarecrow adds to this by saying “It's hard to get a balance: wear a mask and have a life, versus the knock-on effects of impairment. Many people only see me in my mask.”

The frustrations of bearing a fractured identity emerge through the conversations time and again. @IsabelleClement observes that “when the private becomes public it helps to illustrate the existential panic disabled people can end up feeling in the brave new world of Tory welfare reform.” #BeddingOut explores the knife edge disabled people are living on, having to deal with being tick-boxed as part of the process of justifying existence, setting out to be a platform to counter the lies and misinformation established in the press. According to a TUC-commissioned poll published earlier this year those who know least about benefits are the most hostile to claimants. @RGPLizCrow argues against the cynicism and despondency in the face of the immense power struggle that faces us: “If we say 'nothing we say makes a difference’ we've lost the battle,” she says.

Whilst the press claim widespread benefit fraud the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) statistics report fraud at 0.7% across all benefits, with DLA fraud at 0.5%. The battle is reflected in articles like that in the Daily Mail claiming 75% disabled people are 'faking it'. At the same time according to a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, published in November 2012, tax evasion is over £120bn. Government ministers are  misrepresenting official statistics for political gain according to the Guardian. We are fighting an ideological battle to counter spin on the costs of the benefits system.

Online statistical data from the DWP shows that the cost of benefits to the economy works out at a tiny percentage of GDP and less than ten percent of total taxes. Getting on for one-third of benefits goes in housing benefit, profiting landlords, raking it in as a result of the inflation of house prices by successive governments since the 1970s. DWP statistics show that still more of that money goes in subsidising employers who pay their staff less than a living wage.

A new ideology has emerged in the wake of the Paralympics as disabled people have gone from being marketed by the media as 'superhuman' to being labelled as 'scroungers' living the life of riley on others' hard-earned taxes. From remarks like those of @DACymru it seems that the Social Model of Disability has been appropriated and remodelled: “The Work Capability Assessment is a prime example of the Social Model being twisted and used against us.” Anti-charity rhetoric has been reinterpreted as meaning that disabled people don't need support to be able to get on with living with an impairment. Further to this @bluehook asks “…what happened to the equality impact assessment?” Government rhetoric emphasises the will to get disabled people into work at the same time as taking away the means of facilitating the possibility of being able to do so by cutting the Access to Work programme. Within a very short space of time the agenda for inclusion has been turned on its head.

Fears arise through the conversations: @lisapeacefrench states “What frightens me is that welfare reforms are CAUSING discrimination and stigma.” With the proposed disbandment of the Independent Living Fund in 2015 there is a question about the reintroduction of institutions. @DebzCaulfield states “#BeddingOut highlights the agenda for austerity cuts, ie putting disabled people back into institutions." "This must not happen,” she asserts.

What comes across through the messages is the need to share experience and to find solutions and ways of making our voices heard. @Onlyfluffyone applauds the use of social media: “From my bed I have witnessed a small revolution begin.. @RGPLizCrow has started it.. We need to carry it on.. Time for more #beddingout.” @DADAAorgau describes #BeddingOut “as a quiet act with a loud social impact” affirming that “quiet acts can have loud consequences.”

I'd urge you to have a look at the site and take part as Liz Crow prepares for Bedding Out in Edinburgh

Friday 9th August 10.00am – Saturday 10th 4.00pm
Hunt & Darton Cafe, 17-21 St Mary’s Street, EH1 1SU
Conversations around the bed Fri 1pm, 5pm, Saturday 10am, 2pm, with BSL interpreter and notetaker
Conversation on Twitter Fri 9pm, Sat noon
@RGPLizCrow  #beddingout

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