SIC K is the first film from The Red Shed Players from Wakefield. The film is based on real experiences of people claiming Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and inspired by Frances Ryan’s book ‘Crippled’. The book tells the stories of people who have fallen ill or who are disabled and rather than being supported by the system, they are tortured by it.
I was interested in seeing this film as I had been through the process of claiming PIP and found it a stressful experience. PIP was started by the coalition government in 2013, to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA). PIP is a non-means tested benefit paid to those with health conditions or disabilities, aged between 16 and under state pension age and have difficulties with daily living or getting around (or both). Existing DLA claimants are reassessed to see if they are eligible for PIP.
The film starts with the loud noise of Ted’s phone ringing. He answers and talks about the stresses of going to a PIP assessment centre. The location is a garage with a backdrop of ‘DWP Deaths Make me Sick’ shrouds used as backdrop, creating a somewhat eerie atmosphere.
Ted provides a description of how he feels claiming disability benefit and the difficulties in the amount of paperwork he has to deal with and getting help to fill it in. SIC K is intertwined with melancholy music by Dave Hanvey which captures the despairing mood of the film.
There are several themes which emerge from the film. One of which is a system which actively makes sick and disabled people feel even worse by stressing them out with long complicated benefit forms and probing face-to-face assessments. A system working against the most vulnerable in society. Where people are constantly being judged; how they fill in forms, their appearance, their demeaner, how they get to the assessments, how they walk, how they talk, their eye contact.
The context of changes to disability benefits is under austerity. The film captures this by discussing the impact of closing projects which helped vulnerable people with their benefit claim forms and cuts to legal aid. The purpose is the get as many people off benefits and grinding them down so they are less likely to appeal decisions which are not in their favour.
Conversely, by tendering out assessments to private companies, the government has created an industry in assessing vulnerable people at great cost. Money which could have gone on disability benefits in the first place. Vulnerable people’s own medical professionals are best placed to make judgements on their patients. However, they are side-lined in favour of assessors employed by these private companies, who often have little or no knowledge of conditions, utilising a standardised form which simply is not able to take into account individual’s often complicated and fluctuating conditions.
Another key theme emerging from the film is accountability, or rather lack of accountability. There have been many mistakes made with people clearly completely entitled to PIP being denied any payment. This has led to tragic consequences, such as suicides and people dying through diabetic comas, due to lack of money to buy food. The film points out that 15,000 have died since 2013 waiting for their benefits. Yet no one ever seems to be held to account for these disastrous mistakes?
The theme of blame is also explored in the film. Who is to blame for this awful situation? We often think of the assessor. Though, they are simply filling in a standardised form which then gets passed on to a decision-maker, who are following targets which are part of their DWP contract.
Though, the film is not all doom and gloom. It does show people getting together and supporting each other. Community is so important in helping people out and realising that they do not face these struggles alone. The film pointedly makes out that government has choices and chooses to bail out the bankers and yet inflict benefit cuts and stress to the most vulnerable in society. ‘They have got us loving the people we should hate and hating the people we should love’.
The film was shot on a mobile phone and edited on a mac. The film was primarily shot in a garage. Despite this, the film has a very professional look to it, which is backed up with really powerful performances. Essential viewing.
You can watch the film on YouTube – With Subs SICK – YouTube
Written by Peter Hirst
Filming and songs by Dave Hanvey
Shrouds by Vince Law
The Red Shed Players is made up of people with backgrounds in physiotherapy, nursing, care work, industrial chemistry, education, railways, mining, social work. We tell the stories that we don’t think are being told, fairly and in our own voices.
Peter Hirst, who wrote the script said, “I supported a neighbour to the Castleford Assessment Centre and was struck by the sheer contempt that was shown to a person who is obviously unwell. I wrote the play because I was shocked how callous it is, we couldn’t rehearse or perform so we made a socially -distanced film in a garage on Agbrigg Road. We are really pleased to be supported by Vince Law, whose ‘DWP Deaths Make Me Sick’ shrouds are used as backdrops.”