“We must leave evidence. Evidence that we were here, that we existed, that we survived and loved and ached” (Mia Mingus).
The Deaths by Welfare Project, at Healing Justice Ldn, investigates deaths linked to welfare reform and welfare state violence.
The project aims to make visible the slow and bureaucratic violence of the State.
Our work honours, uplifts and learns from disabled people’s lived experience and resistance.
We understand welfare related deaths as issues of disability, spatial, racial and economic justice.
While some may understand people’s deaths as flaws in a system that needs reform, others may see them as designed into a system that needs dismantling and creating anew, with disabled people, and the analysis developed through lived experience, at the core.
The timeline pieces together evidence (often publicly available but well hidden), of dispersed harms and deaths, to identify patterns and strategies used over time by the DWP to deny accountability for people’s deaths.
As well as our timeline, check out:
-Our 5-part Deaths by Welfare podcast series.
–Presentation of our work, with China Mills, Monica Sharman, and Rick Burgess, at Exeter University
–Presentation on state violence and mental health (with China Mills and Wilda White) at Madess: Fighting for Justice in Mental Health, Disruption Network Lab, Berlin.
A core part of the project is the Deaths by Welfare timeline. The timeline is inspired by the work of Disability Justice thinkers, organisers and educators.
“The only way to bear the overwhelming pain of oppression is by telling, in all its detail, in the presence of witnesses and in a context of resistance, how unbearable it is. If we attempt to craft resistance without understanding this task, we are collectively vulnerable to all the errors of judgement that unresolved trauma generates in individuals. It is part of our task as revolutionary people, people who want deep-rooted, radical change, to be as whole as it is possible for us to be. This can only be done if we face the reality of what oppression really means in our lives, not as abstract systems subject to analysis, but as an avalanche of traumas leaving a wake of devastation in the lives of real people who nevertheless remain human, unquenchable, complex and full of possibility.” (Aurora Levins Morales, Medicine Stories).
Creating the timeline: Who we are, and our process
On January 4th, 2021, China Mills emailed John Pring for the first time and asked him if he’d like to co-create a timeline of evidence showing the links between the UK welfare system and disabled people’s deaths. John replied the same day and said yes…
Since 2021, the Deaths by Welfare timeline has collected together masses of evidence showing how the welfare system creates life-threatening policies that lead to people’s deaths. We show that the government knows about these deaths and yet continue to deny responsibility or to make systemic change.
The timeline is based on over a decade of research and involvement in disabled people’s anti-austerity campaigning. The need for the timeline and its contents are deeply informed by disabled people’s expertise, knowledge, activism, and movements.
The timeline was co-created by:
China Mills, leads The Deaths by Welfare Project, at Healing Justice Ldn – a project, co-produced with disabled people, researching welfare state violence and people’s deaths.
John Pring, a disabled journalist with over a decade of experience researching the impact of state austerity on disabled people. John is Editor of Disability News Service.
The timeline benefitted from essential expertise from 4 co-creators:
Ellen Clifford (Disabled People Against Cuts [DPAC], and author of the War on Disabled People).
Dolly Sen (artist and activist working on section136)
Rick Burgess (co-founder of the War on Welfare Petition and Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts).
Nick Dilworth (who had decades of experience as a welfare advisor. Nick passed away before the final version of the timeline was complete. We dedicate this work to his brilliance).
-A first draft of the timeline was co-created in February 2021 by China and John.
-This was then shared with our co-creators (Ellen, Dolly, Rick and Nick) for input and feedback.
-The reworked timeline was then made available online as part of a public consultation (from May -August 2022) – where approx. 30 submissions of feedback were made – most of which came from disabled people (many of whom are named on the acknowledgements page).
-China and John have also shared the timeline widely (at public events and conferences, writing and journalism, on the Deaths by Welfare podcast, and through Disability News Service), to further elicit feedback.
-Feedback from the public consultation and other activities was collated and the timeline reworked by China and John – this included editing existing, and adding new, entries.
-China then worked with Access, Power, Visibility collective to turn the timeline into an accessible searchable tool.
It takes an enormous community, mostly of people with lived experience, to collect evidence of harm and resistance, and to use this for transformational change.
Thank you to all those who have shared lived experience and stories of loved ones lost, including those who prefer to remain anonymous because of DWP surveillance and punishment.
Of those we can name, our timeline and wider Deaths by Welfare project is deeply indebted to:
Tzipporah Johnston and Door in the Wall Arts Access
Litany for Survival team:
Akeim Toussaint Buck
Healing Justice Ldn team (current and previous):
Access Power Visibility collective
We’d also like to thank archivists at the Black Cultural Archives, the National Archives, and the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah RACE Centre and Education Trust archive.
This project is dedicated to all people harmed or killed by the welfare system – we hold you all in our hearts as we continue to fight for justice and co-create liveable worlds.