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Vince Laws shares a piece of visual artwork about what 'they' did to his head / 25 June 2010

photo of artist next to a circular piece of artwork

Vince Laws next to artwork titled 'This is what you did to my head.'

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Last year I got called in to the Job Centre during a long period of illness. “I see you are a magazine editor,” the person behind the counter said. “I was,” I explained, “but I don’t want to do that any more. It’s too stressful.”
“What do you want to do?”
“I want to be a poet and an artist.”

I fully expected to be told to stack shelves. “We can help you with that...” And they did. First I saw a Shaw Trust adviser, and then I was passed on to an InBiz adviser, who helped me to develop a business plan to sit alongside my artistic plan. 

I’m currently on Employment & Support Allowance, claiming the lower rates of DLA, in receipt of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, and since earning £20 for a poetry performance last October. I’m registered for permitted work, and allowed to earn about £92 a week.

I’m trying really hard to get to a point where I can support myself, and so far have earned money performing, selling poetry pamphlets, encouraging others to write or consider adult education, and as a creative practitioner in a Norfolk High School. I did apply for one Arts Council grant but found the paperwork and process so stressful and daunting I don’t intend to do so again just yet.

Being HIV+ my energy levels are not what they were. I have to pace myself, and being self-employed allows me to do that. Suffering depression means I struggle with social situations, new places and people, and travel outside my comfort zone. That said, I’ve challenged myself to perform in various venues, and I’m just starting to consider performing further from home.

I consider myself a prime example of someone who is willing and trying to stand on their own two feet, exactly the kind of person David Cameron, Nick Clegg and the progressive coalition government claim to be supporting. What I need is the security of support and the opportunity to work at my own pace and within my own limits.

What I’m getting is the worry that my DLA will be discontinued; that my Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit will be reduced before I can support myself; and the message that those of us at the bottom of the economic heap deserve less than those at the top.

Worst of all, I have to admit it’s all my fault. I voted Lib Dem.

This is what you did to my head,
You turned my whispers into lies,
This is what you did to my heart,
You turned my kisses into knives,
This is what you did to my hope,
You turned my wishes into sighs,
This is what you did to my art,