‘Dig Him Up’ cartoon by Crippen (real name Dave Lupton)

This audio description has been compiled by Colin Hambrook in December 2017. It was commissioned by Disability Arts Online on behalf of NDACA (the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive). It is read by Joe Turnbull. It is approximately 7 minutes 50 seconds long.

This is a cartoon penned in 2014 by the disability rights cartoonist Dave Lupton aka Crippen. The cartoon depicts in flat planes of vivid colour, a grey gravestone with the letters RIP and a wheelchair-user symbol set above a newly laid grave with a posy of flowers. The brown grave is set on a background of green grass and shrubs against a clear blue sky. A man with blonde hair, wearing a red jacket is holding up a large notice, which has the words ‘Exhumation Order’ written on it. He’s showing it to a gravedigger who wears a flat cap and blue overalls and holds a shovel.

Both men stare at each other with quizzical expressions. A third man stands behind them, an official who wears a grey suit and tie and carries a suitcase with the word ‘ATOS’ written on it. The official points at the grave, whilst declaring “Dig him up! He missed his appointment for a work capability assessment!” the letters written in bold black sans serif font within a white speech bubble. In the left corner the copyright for the cartoon is assigned to www.daveluptoncartoons.co.uk and the cartoonist’s signature, ‘Crippen’ written in black bubble writing with a white surround, sits in the right hand corner of the artwork.

The cartoon uses Crippen’s trademark style of a black-outline drawing technique, which has been digitally created and filled in with flat, bright colours. Lupton draws the basic cartoon using a black fine-line pen on white 100gsm paper. He then scans the drawing and opens the image in Paint.net which allows him to correct any mistakes, add speech bubbles and text, and fill-in with colour from his personalised palette. He can also cut and paste from his extensive library of cartoon characters, blending them into new work.

Lupton has been a disabled activist since the early 1990s working for the most part on the political edge of Disability issues and rights, identifying the barriers that exist for disabled people within society, whilst focusing on the humour and the absurdity of many situations through his cartoons.

‘Dig him up’ is just one of the many cartoons that Crippen has created to address the heartless attitude of private sector organisations like ATOS, who were commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to assess disabled people for benefit payments.

Described by Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) as “a crude health test designed to strip disabled people of benefits by declaring them ‘fit for work’”, The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is the test designed and formally introduced by the DWP in 2008. The core testing process was outsourced to ATOS – a European IT services corporation, tasked with the job of carrying out face-to-face interviews and then reporting on their assessment to the DWP. A civil servant uses this report, plus any other relevant information they have to hand, to decide on entitlement to Employment and Support Allowance or to an enhanced rate of Universal Credit, and on whether a successful claimant will be required to take part in “work-related activity”.

Protests by the Disabled Peoples’ Movement outside ATOS assessment centres grew more prolific after figures released by the DWP in 2012 revealed that 10,600 people died during or within six weeks of being put through the ATOS Work Capability Assessment between January and November 2011. Lupton was at an ATOS demo held in Brighton on 19th February 2014 where the idea of the cartoon took root after being told a story about a fellow disabled person who had said: “they’ll be digging me up to get to their assessment”. The individual had been waiting for ATOS to organise a review of his Work Capability Assessment and had been living without state benefits for several weeks after having been declared fit for work. These words mirrored reality, as the man died before a review of his Work Capability Assessment could take place.

Interviewed by BBC South Today who were covering the Brighton demo, Lupton told their reporter: “One of the many flaws that exists with the ATOS assessment process is that even when disabled people successfully challenge the ATOS decision and get their benefits reinstated, ATOS are still paid for the initial assessment, incurring no penalty whatsoever. Indeed, according to a whistle blowing ex ATOS officer, they are paid a bonus for having reached a predetermined ‘fail’ total”

Caroline Lucas MP was also at the Brighton demo, gathering first-hand evidence from protesters regarding the treatment they had received from ATOS assessors. She was later televised challenging Iain Duncan Smith in the House of Commons with regard to the whole corrupt process. As a result of growing protests from the Disabled People’s Movement at the numbers of disabled people dying, the ATOS contract for Work Capability Assessments was revoked by the UK government in 2015. In March 2015 Maximus – an American company that provides business process services to government health and employment service agencies took over the contract.

Lupton’s use of drawing to challenge oppressive situations dates back to experiences in his early childhood and re-emerged in adult life, when ‘Crippen’ the cartoonist came into being:

“30 years ago, I was involved in an accident – a reckless driver wiped out my car and I was hospitalised. It was suddenly a new world for me. I used a wheelchair for quite a while. People would immediately give me the ‘disabled person’ label. I felt very frustrated. I fell back into cartooning to explain what I felt about the way I was being treated.”

Lupton’s work has included commissions from the BBC and Channel 4, many Disability focused film and television companies, magazines and newspapers, and several leading mainstream newspaper publications, including the Guardian and the Yorkshire Evening Post. He has also produced work for the Disability Rights Commission, the Labour Party, The Green Party, The Disability Trades Union Alliance (TUDA), and the House of Lords. His work supports such groups as ‘Not Dead Yet!’, an anti-euthanasia group of disabled people in the UK, also the anti-cuts campaigning group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) of which he is a founder member.

This audio description was compiled using the following sources: Disability Arts Online, Crippencartoons.co.uk and in communication with the artist. It was commissioned as part of a series of 1000-word essays to mark the launch of NDACA, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Arts Council England.