04 Jul 2022

Pat Shortt backs Limerick campaign to challenge strict rules for disabled artists

Pat Shortt backs Limerick campaign to challenge strict rules for disabled artists

Pat Shortt is lending his support to the Disabled Artists & Disabled Academics campaign to relax Government rules on the amounts disable artists can earn without losing benefits rights

PAT SHORTT has lent his considerable voice to the Disabled Artists & Disabled Academics (DADA) campaign.

It was founded by vocal jazz artist Emilie Conway. DADA’s mission is to achieve greater equity for disabled people by pointing out and challenging barriers to full participation and contribution to the arts, culture, economy and whole of society in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“Many do not get to develop their full potential or share their work,” said Emilie. She says under the Basic Income for Artists (BIA) scheme retention of disability supports for artists with disabilities is “not protected or guaranteed”.

“In DADA we have artists who have lost their disability allowance because they won an Arts Council award. We also have artists who did gigs and then were audited - not because the gig earned them lots of money but the visibility attracted attention. Then they were afraid to work anymore. The fear is crippling and so many disabled artists work for free.

“So no matter what equality diversity inclusion policies the arts sector professes to have - until this systemic problem is fixed, disabled artists cannot engage. Not freely. Not without huge risk. And so most won't,” said Emilie.

Pat Shortt said to make a living in the world of arts is extremely difficult.

“I mean, even as a non-disabled person, you need all the support you can get. Very few people manage to make a living out of the arts. I can only imagine, it must be so much more challenging for people with disabilities,” said the actor, comedian, writer and entertainer.

“To think then, when a disabled artist makes a few bob or wins an award that they have the support for their disability cut, it is just ludicrous. To me that means a disabled person just can't win. They're up against it all the time, and the stress of that!

“We all have to cope with the stresses of the precariousness of the art world, but to think disabled artists have to cope with that and then the fear of losing their disability supports if they have any bit of success, sure that's nonsensical and cruel. With that amount of stress, how can you be creative?” he asked.

Pat said he wasn’t even aware this is what disabled artists go through until it was brought to his attention by Emilie and DADA.

“Sure no one can live like that. It's something everyone needs to be aware of and it's wrong. This needs to change,” said Pat.

Limerick poet Aimee Godfrey is living it. The 23-year-old was born with cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus.

“Last year, I graduated with a degree in creative writing, so when the idea of a basic income for artists was being floated, I was overjoyed! Poetry has always seemed to be the only area in my life where I haven’t had to fight to be seen as half as good as my peers, so the idea of being paid to do just that felt like a dream come true,” said Aimee.

As it stands, she says the current rate of disability allowance places her personal income far below the Government agreed line of poverty.

“Yet its rules surrounding the earning of money have left me no choice. In order to retain the right to access assistance that I desperately need, such as a medical card or travel pass, I have to play their game. This is why I have never been able to enter a cash- prize writing competition or apply for a bursary, even the ones specifically set up for disabled artists. I typically can’t afford the entry fees, and I can’t afford to win!

“A sudden influx of money, however small, could trigger a dehumanising means test that could see me lose the right to a life of any kind of quality,” said Aimee.

The BIA has been lauded by some in Government as being “in recognition of the intrinsic value of the arts to Irish society”, she says.

“But the same Government appears to be saying that there is no intrinsic value to be found in the work of disabled artists. I never in a million years thought being disabled would be less financially stable than being an artist!

“Access to the BIA would change my life, but it won’t stop me being disabled. I am being forced to choose between being a writer and being disabled, and at the end of the day I have to choose the thing I can’t just decide not to be,” said Aimee.

Another Limerick artist with a disability, who doesn’t wish to be named, spoke to the Leader anonymously.

“Being on receipt of a payment can be very isolating – this is not where I would like to be. Many of us are highly qualified. I often dream - wouldn’t it be nice to sell some of my products in a farmers market – it would give me such a lift. Everybody loves to be recognised for what they do.

“Currently people in receipt of any payment (blind / disability / invalidity) cannot gain recognition for anything they do – this option would lift one's spirit and also help their mental health and boost their self esteem, said the artist.

They told the Leader they “would love to sell my wares but I would be terrified, petrified I would lose the payment and medical card and free travel and worse again, pay everything back”.

“Why can't I exist on the open market and the Government tax me on what I sell – that would mean that we would be contributing to society. I can't work at the same pace but let me work at my pace - I need the guaranteed supports but tax me on what I sell - have some system that supports us to grow and develop

“Who wants to work for free with the cost of living on the rise? Let my talent define me and not discriminated against because I am disabled,” they concluded.

DADA is calling on Limerick councillors to follow the lead of other councils who have passed motions calling for the Minister of Social Protection, Heather Humphreys, and the Arts Minister, Catherine Martin, to make changes to the BIA pilot scheme.

It is understood a number of Limerick councillors will propose a similar motion at the next full council meeting.

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