Bex Day focuses on disability funding cuts in shoot for Riposte Issue 12
The photographer takes a look at the topic of UK politics, deciding to tackle an issue that “needs more attention in the mainstream media”.
- Matt Alagiah
- 30 January 2020
Issue 12 of Riposte magazine hit newsstands towards the end of last year during a time of distinct political unease (an atmosphere we’ve all grown wearily familiar with over the past few years). The editorial team wanted the latest issue to reflect upon some of the important political issues facing us all, and so they handed the London-based photographer Bex Day a brief that was pretty open to interpretation: UK politics in 2019.
Given such creative freedom, Bex decided to focus on an issue that doesn’t get nearly enough airtime or column inches. “I chose disability funding cuts as I feel this is a topic that is largely overlooked and needs more attention in the mainstream media,” Bex tells us. The resulting series, They Don’t Know, is a set of portraits of people with disabilities from across the UK, and highlights the impact of a decade of government austerity and budget cuts.
As a photographer, Bex is constantly looking to use her lens as a way to shine a light on issues that are neglected by the mainstream press. Last year, for instance, she released Hen, a series of portraits that sought to give a voice to the UK’s older transgender community. According to figures seen in 2018 by the charity Disability Rights UK, the amount spent on disabled people’s benefits had shrunk by £5 billion throughout a decade of austerity and cuts. Yet this issue isn’t given the attention it deserves.
Before she began the project, Bex conducted a lot of reading and research, and came across “so many horror stories”, she says. One of the key issues she learned about was how frequently disabled people “are told they are fit for work when they are far from it”. As she explains: “The system is totally biased. PIP assessments (personal payment assessments), for example, are difficult because it’s a yes or no process rather than being able to say anything in between these black and white answers. You may say ‘yes’ to being able to cook a meal, but this could be a ‘no’ the next day because you are so fatigued from cooking and have injured yourself or your chair has broken.” Also, she adds, few of the assessors are actually trained in severe and complex disabilities.
The photographer found her subjects through social media and through friends, the first shoot being with Emily who can be seen on the front and back covers of Riposte’s latest issue. She also went through Zebedee Management, a modelling site devoted to those with disabilities. “This is how I met Tony and Monique,” says Bex.
The shoots took Bex right across the UK, as she visited each person in their homes in Wales, Sheffield, Newcastle, Kent and Manchester. Throughout the project, she was at pains to capture her subjects as individuals who are not defined by their disabilities. “It was challenging because it is such a sensitive topic. I had to think extremely carefully about how I would photograph each person within the remits of their homes and areas close by, as we could not travel too far,” she says. “In terms of the concept of the shoot, I wanted to look past their disabilities, to showcase the fact that these people are more than just a disability; it doesn’t and shouldn’t make up their whole being.”
While chiefly Bex was keen to raise awareness of disability funding cuts, shooting the series also had a profound effect on her. “When documenting each person, it really opened my eyes to how much we take for granted, the richness of these individuals’ lives and how far they have come in terms of their personal growth throughout their journey,” she says. “I kept thinking about the concept of privilege and how it is invisible to those who have it.”