This Instagram account exposes the heartbreaking consequences of welfare cuts

‘Tales of Austerity’ shares handwritten true stories from some of society's most vulnerable citizens

by Roisin Lanigan
12 November 2019, 5:49pm

Image via Instagram

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As the UK heads towards yet another General Election, the societal effects of years of government-imposed austerity have come into sharp focus. Homelessness has risen by 165%, the introduction of Universal Credit has crippled the benefits system and British food banks have just had their “busiest summer yet”, with 1.6 million parcels handed out in the past year. The Department of Work and Pensions has taken disability living allowance away from hundreds of vulnerable people, in some cases even declaring people “fit to work” despite the fact they were dying or had already died.

While the Labour party makes promises to prop up and repair the welfare state that the ruling Conservatives have systematically dismantled, a new Instagram account is making sure that we don’t forget the individuals behind the policies. Tales of Austerity is the brainchild of Jess and Clare, best friends and Labour supporters who are collating and sharing personal stories from across the UK.

They post images from shop fronts, tents belonging to the homeless, cardboard boxes and front doors, each telling a personal story of how austerity measures have impacted an individual's life. The tales come from every corner from the UK – from homeless veterans to those living on zero hour contracts. What emanates from each one though, is fear and uncertainty about the future.

When we speak, Jess and Clare are keen to emphasise that the account is more to do with the stories than it is to do with either of them. “We just wanted to try to promote and collate what we saw as a really powerful message,” explains Jess, who tells i-D the Instagram was inspired by the growing hashtag (and website) #ToryStory. The women find their Tory Stories from various social media platforms and, working together with the photographers, promote them on Instagram with their permission. The result is extremely moving.

One particular post, which originated from Momentum, shows a handwritten note plastered on a bus stop and tells the story of a person who had their sick benefits taken away. They share their fear that, without these payments or the steady income from a job, they will now be unable to look after family members. “It just perfectly sums up what should be, but isn’t, at the heart of the upcoming election”, says Jess of the image.

“I think this is an excellent opportunity to enable people who either don’t have a voice or don’t feel listened to, to be able to share their stories and tell of the direct impact austerity measures have had on them,” she adds. Both Jess and Clare now hope to use the account to facilitate change and awareness, reaching out to local charities, NHS workers and even the police to get them to share their own stories. While the response so far has been mostly good, the account has also received its fair share of attacks too. “We’ve got some classic troll responses, and one image – a makeshift and particularly saddening memorial for people affected by the brutality of bedroom tax that was written on a bedsheet and hung up in the street in Bolton – has got an argument thread of over 150 comments.”

It’s easy, especially in the age of 24-hour news cycles, likes and RTs, for political debate to become abstract and for us to become desensitised to what oppressive policies can really mean for those they affect. Tales of Austerity might only have a small online presence, but Jess and Clare are ensuring that we remember both the humanity at the core of our political system, and the importance of protecting each other.

Election 2019
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