Karen's Story - RIP Karen Sherlock, Disability Rights Campaigner - Died June 8th 2012 / 25 September 2013
I have been preparing for the memorial event in Parliament Square this coming Saturday and have re-read Karen Sherlock’s story on Bendy Girl’s ‘Benefit Scrounging Scum’ blog. Karen’s story is sadly not unremarkable – judging by the numbers of disabled individuals who have undergone intimidation and dehumanisation as a result of ATOS’ Work Capability Assessment.
From the stories I’ve heard it is pretty much a lottery as to how you get treated by ATOS – but Karen’s story as documented from October 2010 as her impairment issues worsened – is a terrifying reflection on how uncaring and disconnected our society has become.
The process of total and utter dehumanisation Karen recounts as she documents everything she went through in the last months of her life is shocking to read. The levels of bullying to which ATOS are prepared to go demonstrate a slow stripping away of any confidence and dignity to ensure Karen is disabled by the Work Capability Assessment.
As she says in an entry from February 2012 – just a few months before her death: “What frustrates me most is I know how ill I am, but they do not seem to care, and they probably still won’t even after reading [my story].”
The slow drip-by-drip passive aggressive approach of the bureaucrats Karen has to deal with – laced with persistent contradictions – followed by more and more forms – encountering rejection after rejection… all in the pursuit of some recognition of her status as a disabled person and a few pennies to fill the family coffers.
If anything is a testament to the broken state of the Welfare State and that the Work Capability Assessment is not fit for purpose - it is Karen’s testimony.
The plan for Saturday’s 10,000 Cuts and Rising memorial event to all those who’ve died is to have some of these testimonies read publicly to raise awareness. The hope is that with a focus on the WoW petition – that the number of signatures will force the issue of a parliamentary debate on the Work Capability Assessment.
A broader part of the strategy is to gain support from MPs and to propose an alternative to WCA. It’s too late for Karen Sherlock and the ten thousand plus others who’ve died within six weeks of being declared fit for work – but the process of government sanctioned intimidation of the most vulnerable individuals has to stop.
The Disability Arts Movement used to be a political movement, challenging discrimination and promoting ideas of the social value that our experience brings to the world. Now, it seems that impetus for using art to change society is in a lull. A bigger question for disabled artists is how to reinvigorate the kinds of questions that Disability Arts posed in the 1980s and 1990s.