On the benefit life

Manuela Henao Restrepo

The United Kingdom was one of the first countries to establish a social security system. The years following the Second World War saw the emergence of the British welfare state as a response to the poverty and precarious economic circumstances left after the war.

However, from the 70s onwards, the welfare state has been the focus of heated political debate and has suffered extensive budget cuts. One of the main arguments against the welfare system is that it creates a dependency culture amongst those who use it, maintaining precarious situations rather than encouraging people to move forward and improve their lifestyles.

This series of images shows the material reality inhabited by those living on the bread-line. These images aim to convey the deeper realities of marginalisation and the disenfranchisement that these people experience. The images focus in on the objects and living spaces as descriptors of the person who forms part of a sociopolitical frame; the final portrait is a subtle composition that allows the viewer’s prejudices and empathy towards the subject to come into play.

This image illustrates the relationship that Liz has with her cats;  it represents her way to escape the marginalisation felt by people on benefits.

This image was chosen to be shown out of the whole series because we think it is a beautifully bittersweet portrait that shows us a very intimate view of the benefit life. We were utterly taken in by the symmetry of the positions of Liz and her cat, especially Liz’s vulnerable pose that just tugs at our heartstrings. We feel it emphasises the stark emptiness of the bedroom which in turn reflects the hardships that come with living on benefits.