(I’m recounting the story regarding Bruce Kenrick second hand, so apologies if the facts become mangled, but in any case it’s the lesson that counts.)
In the 1960’s Reverend Bruce Kenrick became appalled by housing conditions in North Kensington. The area was populated by poor people, most of whom were immigrants from the Caribbean, living in decaying overcrowded accommodation. His subsequent activism led him to found both Shelter and Notting Hill House Trust.
Kenrick was ahead of the curve when it came to the power of publicity. In particular he recognised the shock value of photographs to help raise funds. While surveying housing conditions he was disturbed to come across one family living in absolutely squalor: two parents and several children in a small cramped flat, all covered in filth. This, he thought, would be the perfect photograph with which to convey the injustice he had witnessed.
He asked the family if he could return a few days later to take some photographs and they agreed. On returning he found that the flat had been tidied, the children were clean and everyone was in their best outfits ready to have their photograph taken.
A valuable lesson was learned.
I was reminded of this story when reading this powerful article by Hari Covert this morning regarding the impact of stereotypes on disabled people and people with mental health problems. She tells of a woman with bi-polar, personality disorder, mild schizophrenia and a physical condition applying for Disability Living Allowance. The fact that she was able to attend her assessment and wore makeup on the day was actually used to undermine her claim.
Why would we design a welfare state which punishes people for putting their best foot forward?