The Real Deal

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.

6 thoughts on “The Real Deal

  1. There have been thousands of our sick and disabled people that have taken there own lives over the last 10yrs because of this government,s corrupt medical assessment,s.(Atos suicides..DWP suicides..Calum,s list) Atos deliberately go out of there way to harm those in there assessment,s..I cannot help but wonder if you need to look a bit deeper at how cruel,callous and inhumane Atos are,and how millions have suffered under them..If ever a company and government should be up in court for crimes against humanity it is this government and Atos..This video below says everything what this vile government stand for…https://www.facebook.com/VictoriaDerbyshire/videos/10154642317876547

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  2. No. You miss the issue entirely.
    The early reasons given for suspecting Nigel of being a faker and a fraud are wrong and dubious at best.
    Nigel carries his crutch. Sometimes he doesn’t use it. Sometimes he looks ok and sometimes he doesn’t.
    These are all logged and given as incontrovertible proof that he is a fraud. And this is something which the general public believes too.

    Yet if you have a fluctuating illness, this might all be quite normal.
    Some days you might be able to walk a little way. Some days you may need a stick. Some days you may need a wheelchair. With increasing pain and fatigue you might not need a crutch at the start of your walk, but need it by the time you get back, so carry it some of the way.

    This film only reinforced the stereotype that all impairments are static and unchanging hour to hour, day to day. And that if they do change then the only explanation is that the disabled person is a fraudster and MUST be reported to the DWP.

    I myself have a deteriorating condition. I’ve been in the above position. I now use an electric wheelchair at all times. It is in many ways easier now. Why? Because I don’t get challenged and suspected on a regular basis. I don’t worry that I will get reported to the DWP.

    THAT is what people were upset about. Not the representation of the assessment, which was very well done.

    Incidentally, your assertion that people with invisible illnesses probably use the “cheating” strategies is pretty insulting.

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    1. please do not say that I have somehow ‘missed the issue’ when you have just illustrated precisely the ambiguities I sought to pick up upon in my blog entry. The fact is, benefit fraud is a reality. The notion of what constitutes a disability is also growing, generating the sort of vagaries The Real Deal was attempting to explore. Attacking it for doing so simply shows how much of a raw nerve it touched in some.

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      1. You say “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. ”

        You do miss the point, as this was not the reason for the criticism and upset.
        The reason was that legitimate actions disabled people with hidden impairments take every day were taken as evidence as fraud at the start of the film. This is a cause of daily harm for many disabled people.
        This was not discussed or explained at any stage in the film.
        You do not discuss it in your blog.

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    1. I gave several in my initial response.
      Carrying a walking stick/crutch.
      Looking unwell or in pain one day but looking fine later.
      Using a disability aid one day but not another.
      Another might include doing many activities one day but not many on other days.

      A disabled person should be free to use whichever disability aid is best suited for them that day.
      They should be free to push themselves to do the most they can do each and every day, even if it varies hugely.
      They should be able to do all of this without being derided, confronted and in fear of being reported.

      You demand to know how one can tell it isn’t fraud.
      You can’t just by looking. That is the point.
      We only know for certain that “Nigel” is a fraud when he demands the use of a wheelchair.
      If someone boasts of playing the system, or blatantly attempts to, fine. But you often can’t tell by looking.

      The vast number of disabled people affected far outweighs the fraudsters by DWP own estimates and case numbers.
      Fraud should be stopped and tackled, but not by preventing disabled people fully living their lives.
      Encouraging reporting people when the public is so poorly educated about fluctuating and invisible conditions is only going to do so.
      And that is why this film is problematic. It did just that.

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