2016 - Ongoing
THATCHER’S CHILDREN: Project Description
Thatcher’s Children investigates the chronic inter-generational nature of poverty & explores the effects of successive governments’ social policies as they have been felt by three generations of one family in the north of England.
Photography is very good at documenting the ‘now’ to create a record of an instant in time & it has long been the aim of humanitarian photographers to shine a light into dark corners of society to highlight social issues. It is less good at examining the long-term effects of those social issues however & ‘Thatcher’s Children’ addresses that with a unique opportunity to critically examine the effects of neoliberal social policies over 27 years.
I first met the Williams family in Blackpool in 1992 when I made a documentary reportage about ‘The Underclass’ for The Independent newspaper in London & ‘Liberation’ in Paris.
At the time, two parents were living with six children in a hostel for homeless families. They were trapped in a cycle of unemployment & poverty.
I had long wondered what became of the family & finally managed to trace them in 2016. The six children now have almost 30 children between them, almost all living in similar conditions to the way I found them in ’92. Their experience is illustrative of what happened to a society left behind by the social policies implemented in the 80s & 90s leaving a growing & increasingly disenfranchised population pushed to the edges of society.
The experience is not confined to the UK, but is representative of a wider breakdown of the social contract resulting principally from the neoliberal economic & social policies of the last 40 years instigated initially in the UK & US, but then taken up in almost all countries right across the world. As pro-business deregulation & globalized free markets took hold, inequality widened & great swathes of people have been left behind in an evangelical drive for ‘small government’ policies that promote an unquestioned belief in meritocracy & demonize the poor as architects of their own misfortune.
With the primary objective to associate lived experience with government policy, I looked back to the founding of the modern welfare state & how after WWII the British government set out with the express aim of alleviating poverty & bringing about a more equitable society, building on the Keynesian economic & social policies implemented in the US by Roosevelt in The New Deal.
The principle architect of these reforms was the liberal economist & social reformer William Beveridge.
His 1942 report became the blueprint for the post war reforms & he identified ‘five giant evils’ as the scourge of society:
Representing: poverty, poor healthcare, poor education, bad housing & unemployment.
In discussion with the family & wider academic & social policy thinkers, I decided to construct the project around these five issues as still the principle concerns of the poor.
To these, however, I propose to add a sixth ‘giant evil’. One that was not a major concern for families in the post war years, but is now one of the primary forces that keeps families trapped in poverty
The next stages of the work are to complete the photography & audio conversations & to fully research the political material to intersperse with the pictures, video stills & transcribed words. I am working alongside distinguished academics who help to contextualize & draw the relationship between policy & experience. This is a wide-ranging investigation into social inequality that challenges the accepted status quo.
The work will be published & exhibited widely (including The Guardian Weekend Magazine) & will be published as a monograph by GOST books providing a legacy of a quarter of a century of misguided economic & social policy.