Thursday, 17 May 2018

Mental Health Awareness Week

It's #mentalhealthawarenessweek

Laura Bennett tweeted about the social care crisis facing carers here

Gingerbread explain why Universal Credit is failing single parents here

I get a lot of support from artists and other creatives alike for highlighting that I cannot volunteer, donate work, exhibit work for free, make work whilst not being able to pay the energy bills, but an equal amount of lies from those that voluntarily promote volunteering as "amazing" "fantastic work".
Here's why I find that untrue.
It's also because I was given negative advice by a volunteer at Citizen's Advice Bureau which is still negatively affecting my own mental health, and I'm not the only one that thinks vulnerable people are being expected to do work that should be done by a paid professional due to funding cuts. And that includes artists!

Toto energy bill viewed through a Disgustoscope

I was invited to a new studio space in Lincoln, called Mansions Of The Future.
The studio spaces are free for artists, which is good, and is obviously better than the ludicrous idea of artists paying for space, but there comes an expectation to commit four hours' worth of voluntary work, including workshops, which I would normally be paid to do. The one thing, in fact, that I get paid to do is now expected to be free, and there are those that are not only willing, but do it gladly. If it wasn't for this obligation, it would otherwise be a really good space.

This causes stress, because even if I were to spend time making work in the studio spaces, which I can do in my studio at home, I still have overheads of running a house, such as rent, food shopping, energy bills, broadband, phone, clothing, haircuts - I just got my hair done, it wasn't free - travel, birthdays, Christmas, etc - all my GUDP, so then on top of all the unpaid caring work I do, I'm expected to add four hours doing something I normally get paid to do!

Those costs are not going to disappear if I have a free studio space, and I think some artists considered free studio space as an actual payment. 
My safeguarding hat goes on for other artists with mental health issues.

Toto energy bill email with sad emoticon because I refuse to pay their pre-Christmas price hike

Why do I find this a problem?
Self exploitation.
This article on a-n highlights how artists are exploited, and why for me it's very important to safeguard not only myself, but others from their own self exploitation.

When I ran Lincoln Artists' Network, we had free use of empty shop space, but when I asked other artists to come and get involved, they would say they had to work!! Many left Lincoln to seek paid work elsewhere, and weren't supportive of a collective ethos. 
I ended up doing tons of work for nothing whilst dealing with a mental health crisis. 
I know of some students with mental health conditions that would pay to use studio space at The Terrace, and then tell me how great that was!
It all went a bit One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, and so I distanced myself from it.
Whenever I've run workshops before, I've always been paid money that has paid off erroneous gas bills in the past. The space at The Collection, or schools was free, but I still got paid for my work too.

Imagine David Brent going into The Office, doing a stupid dance, and saying to the staff "Wooo! This Office is free!! It's fantastic that you can work here for free, so Gareth is volunteering (cue Gareth looking quite zombified) to tell you all about how great it is, and how you can also volunteer four hours a week to do photocopying for other office staff, and the marketing, so I can go off to play golf".
In any other profession, workers get paid, not with free office space, but a wage, which they use to pay bills, put a deposit on a mortgage, pay for insurance, drive a car to work, all the normal things most workers require.

In many jobs now, it's underpaid zero hours contract work, so even in non-creative work, people aren't being paid enough - the DWP have sanctioned me for my non-arts job, so when the woman at the Citizen's Advice Bureau suggested I "get another job" it tipped me over the edge of tolerating these lies.

But for some (insane) reason, artists are treated like charity workers, like creative philanthropists that everyone else is somehow entitled to, as if WE'RE denying THEM their right to have our work for nothing, at the expense of our own rights to earn a living, and the arts also needs to follow the same guidelines as any other work for artists that are also carers.

This is the scale and complete madness of the health and social care crisis.
There are even carers that work in care homes part time that can't cope and wish to give up part time paid work because it doesn't pay enough to manage their caring roles, and they're expected to pay additional costs for services to support the person they care for.
So imagine you're an artist, and you're expected all the time to volunteer, or donate work to fundraise for a charity, or other artists are going "I give my work away", which then feeds into this false idea that art is free.

Neither I, nor my son, receive any financial help for mental health or caring from any charities that fundraise, not even in times of crisis.
Carers First always tell me they have no funding.
Carers UK highlight the problem here

I am unique, in that I have experience of economic abuse; that was how I became a single parent, and that my son was also subjected to emotional and financial abuse when he was diagnosed with his illness by a struck off mental health nurse, who fraudulently claimed benefits for him, causing financial problems that we still have not recovered from. 

And when he was suicidal, he didn't call The Samaritans, he called me, and with help from the police, he came home, and he is alive today because he is cared for, with my GUDP, and for this, we're expected to survive on fresh air.

What would make things easier or better for artists that are also carers?

What I require is a regular income for the work I do, both as an artist, and as a full time carer; like a wage. Not Universal Credit.
Enough to pay all my household expenses as they are, but more than this, as the house we currently live in is too small for our needs.
My son spends most of his time at home coping with depression and anxiety, and spends most of his time in his room. 
So ideally, we require a bigger house - we used to live in a larger house when I was a student, but due to the rogue landlord, we were evicted.
On DIY SOS they often convert houses for kids with physical disabilities, but young adults with mental health issues also need stable homes that help to reduce anxiety.
We either need a mortgage or social housing.

I either need a studio space at home that I can shut in to work in; sometimes I daydream of converting the loft into a studio space, but as I rent, that would be an expensive job for my landlord, the rent will go up, and my income will remain too low to afford it. 
Or I could make use of this free studio space, but I still need to be paid to run the house, and my GUDP, so I wouldn't be able to do free workshops.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

This Woman's Work

All of my motivation was destroyed completely a few weeks ago, by a woman from Citizen's Advice telling me to "get another job".
I'm thinking of giving up my zero hours contract work, which was taken on to mitigate against the bedroom tax, to focus on my self-employment and my caring role, as it doesn't earn enough to cover any shortfall, or live without benefits support.
It takes time out of my practice as an artist, and I'm not better off because of it.
It IS my another job, which I thought would pay the bills, but apparently doesn't.

Luckily, Sandi Toksvig can explain to the DWP how caring is unpaid labour.

Imagine a world where artists give up their another jobs and actually get paid for being an artist.


This week it was also suggested that I pay £300 per month for some space (with what money, I have no idea) and work for free until I make enough for a better space.