This morning when I got to my computer, one of the first things I read was this Disability News Service article. There has been a considerable backlash in the Crip Community against Liz Carr’s CripTales monologue, The Real Deal: many ‘activists’ are apparently appalled by it, saying it feeds directly into the right-wing tory narrative that benefit applicants cannot be trusted and are somehow faking their disability. Having just rewatched the short, I would certainly agree that it is very problematic. After all, it depicts a disabled person spying on her neighbour: he teaches her how to cheat in her PIP assessment, and she then reports him to the DWP. At best it is thus very morally ambiguous.
Of course, the whole point of art is to challenge perceptions and assumptions, and I think that is exactly what this monologue does. It isn’t at all clear whether Carr’s character is in the right or not, given that she judges another person for cheating the benefit system, yet is seemingly willing to get his help to do it herself. The way she describes both are quite horrific, for example going into explicit detail about the way she was told to present herself at her assessment. The viewer is thus deliberately challenged; this is clearly not the stereotype of the sweet, innocent disabled person.
I have had a few such assessments over the years. In each, I have found it best to be as honest as possible, telling the assessor what I can and cannot do. Can I cook for myself? Nope. Wash myself? Nope. Dress myself? Sort of. And so on. I have found it has given me broadly the amount of support I need to live independently. The thing is, I think the reason why others have reacted so strongly against this monologue is because there is a grain off truth to it. The assessment system sometimes forces people to exaggerate their impairment in order to get the level of support they think they need. The Disability News Service article cites people with hidden disabilities who say this film made them feel angry and distressed, as if it was accusing them of benefit fraud personally. I suspect those whose impairments aren’t as obvious and physical as mine might see it as a personal attack by illustrating strategies they might use, perhaps unconsciously. They argue that the assessment system is fundamentally geared towards those of us with physical disabilities by asking what people are and are not physically capable of, and so disenfranchises people with hidden or mental impairments. You can still be disabled even if you can do everything on the assessor’s checklist.
I can certainly see why beginning to articulate such moral ambiguities might cause certain people to feel challenged. Whereas people like me tend to want to minimise our disabilities and get on with life as independently as possible, albeit with the right support and equipment, others seem to feel forced to highlight the degree to which they are impaired. The way in which Carr describes her neighbour asking if he could borrow her powerchair for his assessment because ”You never know what will happen in a year or so” might well strike an uncomfortable chord in some. I have written on here before about how increasing numbers of people now seem desperate to have their (usually hidden) disabilities recognised; I think it’s pretty obvious why they would find a film like this, which addresses the subjects of benefit fraud and whether someone really qualifies as disabled head on, so challenging. However, it is only when we begin to address subjects like benefit fraud to a wider audience, articulating it’s problems and ambiguities, that we can start to dispel some of the dangerous stereotypes associated with it. Thus while I found this film problematic, it was also quite brave.