Basic income scheme the latest knock for disabled artists

Disabled artists are not receiving same financial support as their able-bodied peers

  Brigid O’Dea:  ‘The BIA is not the first systemic obstacle faced by disabled artists.’ Photograph: Alan Betson

Brigid O’Dea: ‘The BIA is not the first systemic obstacle faced by disabled artists.’ Photograph: Alan Betson

 

I am sick again. Not with Covid, but something else unpleasant. Something else that means, I am back in bed. I am seeking comfort in the 90s TV programme Gladiators. Janet and Panther are jousting. They sit upon bucking mechanical bull-like devices. The former clings on as the latter pummels her, attempting to dislodge her using an oversized pugil stick. If a competitor is knocked to the floor, a trapdoor is opened.

Ah! I think, this is what it feels like to be a disabled artist.

The knocks just keep coming.

We are only ever one misstep away from falling through that trap door.

The Government recently announced the Basic Income for Arts pilot scheme (BIA). This is exciting news. While the scheme doesn’t necessarily provide artists with a sufficient income to qualify as a “living wage”, it does provide very welcome financial support to artists developing their craft. Much of this work is unseen and unpaid. Those who have been involved in campaigning for the scheme, including the National Campaign for the Arts and Praxis, the newly established union for artists, should be commended for getting the scheme over the line. It is great to see the commitment and societal contributions of artists valued.

However, concerns have been voiced in relation to how this scheme will be made available to artists with disabilities.

Minister for Tourism, Culture and Arts, Catherine Martin TD noted that any artist who is also in receipt of disability allowance or blind pension will be entitled to the BIA. However, it will be assessed as self-employed income. This means it will be means tested against their disability support, or blind pension (this is also the case for those in receipt of invalidity pension and partial capacity benefit). Therefore, upon receipt of the BIA, they will have their disability supports reduced.

Significant financial cost

In 2021, the Government released a report stating that the cost of being disabled in Ireland is estimated to be between €9,482 and €11,734 per annum. Obviously, every disability is different, and the cost of each disability varies. However, the report clearly spells out that living with a disability comes at a significant financial cost over and above that experienced by the rest of the population.

The report states: “The Government has committed to using this research into the cost of disability to inform the direction of future policy.” Despite this commitment, the BIA terms and conditions suggest that these findings were either ignored by Government when formulating the BIA framework or it considers disabled artists less worthy of support than their able-bodied peers.

To this end, is the expectation that disabled artists use their disability support to pay for their art or should they fund their disability with their BIA?

Not only do disabled artists have increased living costs, but many have decreased earning potential. For example, an able-bodied artist may be able to commit 40 hours per week to their craft, meanwhile a disabled person may only be able to commit 10. And at this, their ability to work may be sporadic, depending on fluctuating levels of illness or pain, and access to the necessary support infrastructures. It is well documented that neither disability allowance, blind pension nor BIA is considered a living wage. Therefore, those in receipt either rely on income from other sources or they are forced to live in poverty.

The BIA is not the first systemic obstacle faced by disabled artists. Many artists fund their work through grants systems, primarily via the Arts Council. The council awards grants both big and small across a broad spectrum of different artistic projects and disciplines. Unfortunately, this is not an option available to artists in receipt of disability allowance nor blind pension. Any money awarded to an artist in receipt of either support is immediately deducted from their allowance, euro for euro. In essence, the artist is expected to work for free and fund the project expenses with their own income. It costs them to undertake a project. This is true even of grants awarded by Arts & Disability Ireland, an arts body specifically for disabled artists.

Afraid

Disabled artists are being penalised and cannot afford to engage in artist projects at the same level as their able-bodied peers.

Many disabled artists are also afraid to receive payment for their work for fear of how this will affect their disability supports. A one-off payment might mean their support will be re-assessed, and this once-off lump sum will be counted as their baseline income rather than a sporadic payment. They fear losing essential supports such as medical cards and free transport.

Engaging with the social welfare service can be a dehumanising experience; guidance is hard-sought until you misstep. At this point, there is little room for discussion. Like Janet and Panther, it feels like we are adversaries.

Living with a disability can be challenging. Living with a disability when the system works against you is even more challenging. It would be nice to engage with a system of support; to feel trusted and respected, and ultimately to feel our art is as valued as our able-bodied peers’.

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