For some reason I don’t do specialist or light hearted subjects – I always gravitate to major social and political issues. Having decided not to take on the nation’s conscience on Britain’s role in slavery, I’m now thinking about the impact of 8 years of austerity with 4 more years to come.
I’m concerned about the combined effects of service and benefit cuts on the most vulnerable in society, that services facing endless cuts will finally disintegrate and that when the holes in the safety net become too large we effectively cease to have a Welfare State. And I’m concerned that this is happening without a proper political debate about the choices that are being made and the consequences of them.
We do, of course, hear about some public service issues. Problems in the NHS are well publicised – but what is not so obvious is that the health service is one of the best protected public services because of the votes it attracts. The pressures on the prison service, whose budget was cut by 22%, only got attention when assaults on staff had risen by 70% and incidents of prisoner self harm by 25%. And did you know that 3 out of every 10 children already live below the poverty line or that disabled people are effected nine times more than others by the combined effects of cuts?
And still is goes on, with tens of billions pounds more to be “saved” by 2022 when it is calculated that the poorest will have lost nearly 10% whilst the richest will have lost barely 1%. So much for “We’re all in it together”!
Meanwhile Britain’s taxes are among the lowest in Europe, particularly for higher earners. The Government does not collect information to see the cumulative effect of all of its policies on individuals and families – it says it’s too difficult. When think tanks produce this information articles appear in the Guardian and Independent, and sometimes the Mirror and Financial Times – but usually not in other newspapers.
So where does this take my practice, apart from thinking about making a quick dash back to “colour”? I feel as if I have two distinct parts of my brain that don’t quite connect – one part concerned with serious political issue and the other with colour. But Patti assures me that they could easily be combined to create colourful social portraits or critiques. And I’m beginning to think about safety nets with enormous holes, what happens when something passes the tipping point or a blindfolded person wields a knife and systems where the dots aren’t connected.
I also wonder about the value of political art. If I want to pursue a political cause, is art really the best way? And then I think of the posters Wolfgang Tillmans made for the EU referendum. It didn’t stop Brexit, but at least he tried.