THIS PODCAST CONTAINS LANGUAGE AND CONTENT SOME PEOPLE MAY FIND OFFENSIVE. IT ALSO CONTAINS COMMENTARY ON SUICIDE, WHICH SOME READERS AND LISTENERS MAY FIND DISTRESSING. THE VIEWS EXPRESSED IN THIS EPISODE ARE THE OPINIONS OF THE HOST AND GUESTS.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is the subject of a new song. But it doesn’t show the contentious government body in a good light. Instead, the song is a haunting look at one of its more controversial policies: the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). What’s more, all proceeds from the track are going to a front line campaign group.
The DWP meets punk
The band Your Heterosexual Violence describes itself as a “psychedelic punk machine with occasional sojourns into melodic pop”. Originally formed in the 1980s, the band regrouped several years ago to begin making music and touring again. Its most recent move has taken it into the realms of political and social protest music. Your Heterosexual Violence has released Pauper’s Funeral. It’s a track about the WCA, and about it contributing to pushing some people to the brink of taking their own lives.
So, I caught up with Dave Dodd and Brian O’Brien from the band for the #ToppleUncaged podcast. We discussed the backstory of Your Heterosexual Violence, how Pauper’s Funeral came about, the current shape of protest music, and more.
Listen here and read more below:
A broken system
The WCA is the process the DWP uses to decide whether claimants are ‘fit-for-work’ and therefore entitled to certain benefits. It’s been dogged by controversy. Of major concern was a study by Oxford and Liverpool universities. It found that an “additional” 590 people taking their own lives was linked to the WCA process. Politicians have also accused the DWP of a “deliberate cover up” over missing evidence from an independent review into the WCA.
Literally taking money from people who are disabled, unwell or dying and what are the worst consequences of this system? The ultimate result of this brutality? Jodie Whiting took her life 15 days after the DWP stopped her benefits for missing a work capability assessment when she was seriously ill.
These are the real-life tragedies of a broken system. They are not individual problems, they are systemic failings.
An important petition
A petition calling for an independent inquiry into DWP-linked deaths currently has over 40,000 signatures. It was prompted by Whiting’s case. She lived with curvature of the spine, a brain cyst, and was taking 23 tablets a day. As BBC News reported:
Whiting, 42, of Stockton, Teesside, took her life in 2017 when her payments were halted because she missed a capability assessment.
An independent inquiry has found the… (DWP) breached its own rules and it has been ordered to apologise and pay £10,000 compensation.
The DWP said it accepted the findings.
Whiting missed her WCA because she had pneumonia. But the DWP said she was fit for work anyway and stopped her benefits. She then took her own life. Your Heterosexual Violence’s track is an attempt to sum this broken system up.
“See how far I’ve slipped”
Pauper’s Funeral is haunting in its simplicity. An indie track which crosses over into melodic pop, it reminds me of Radiohead. The band has crafted the track perfectly to fit the sombre subject matter. Dodd’s guitar riff is the basis for the track. It is relentless, encapsulating the nature of the DWP’s harassment of claimants. The vocals of O’Brien and Jemma Freeman interplay beautifully. Aspects of it feel like a conversation between two people who have run out of hope. But it’s the lyrics which make Pauper’s Funeral so profound. As the track concludes:
Stop my benefit
To cut the deficit
Leave me riding in hell
I’ll make it sooner
I’ll see what I can do about it…
See how far I’ve slipped…
All download proceeds from the track are going to disability rights campaign group Black Triangle. It has relentlessly raised awareness of DWP-related issues for several years. Some of its focus has been on the WCA. So, donations from Pauper’s Funeral to Black Triangle are entirely fitting.
A ballad for millions
Your Heterosexual Violence has encapsulated the essence of effective political protest music. It is devastatingly accurate, gorgeously arranged, and stark in its simplicity. Pauper’s Funeral is a ballad for all those scarred by the DWP. And by supporting such a worthwhile cause, the band has shown the true meaning of solidarity with disabled, chronically ill, and sick people.
You can download Pauper’s Funeral via bandcamp here.
CanaryPod: #ToppleUncaged… meets Your Heterosexual Violence:
Presented, produced and edited by Steve Topple.
Sound engineering by Gav Pauze.
Follow on Twitter:
Steve Topple @MrTopple; The Canary @TheCanaryUK; Black Triangle @blacktriangle1; Nicola Jeffery @NicolaCJeffery; Gav Pauze @PauzeRadio; Rai Star Music @rai_star113
Use the hashtags #ToppleUncaged #CanaryPod
Find out more about Gav Pauze.
Topple Uncaged Theme Music: Lost Souls by Lee Wrizzle.
We know everyone is suffering under the Tories - but the Canary is a vital weapon in our fight back, and we need your support
The Canary Workers’ Co-op knows life is hard. The Tories are waging a class war against us we’re all having to fight. But like trade unions and community organising, truly independent working-class media is a vital weapon in our armoury.
The Canary doesn’t have the budget of the corporate media. In fact, our income is over 1,000 times less than the Guardian’s. What we do have is a radical agenda that disrupts power and amplifies marginalised communities. But we can only do this with our readers’ support.
So please, help us continue to spread messages of resistance and hope. Even the smallest donation would mean the world to us.