‘We are a sick society … we have forgotten our most vulnerable’

WATCHING the Tories turn the UK into a “sick society” was Peter Howson’s inspiration for our front cover today.

The artist, who has created these powerful images exclusively for The National, hit out at David Cameron yesterday for “forgetting” the vulnerable.

“Everything is so cynical,” he said. “I have to stop myself getting bitter about it. We are a sick society. I don’t know much, I don’t know enough, but I can spot a phony a million miles away. David Cameron is a gold-medal standard phony.

“When I was doing history one of the things that struck me was the whole business of society and civilisation is how we treat the more vulnerable people – and we have forgotten them. We are a less caring society than we ever were.”

The 57-year-old, a former war artist, made the pastel images as an extension of his current Demokratia collection, which reflects on current political and social issues.

One piece features a family set to be affected by Tory cuts as the party pursues its austerity agenda.

The child is modelled on Howson’s own daughter Lucie, who has autism.

Howson, who himself has Asperger’s Syndrome, says his personal life shaped his political views as much as his experiences abroad, such as his time covering the Bosnian civil war.

The independence supporter describes the Union flag, which features prominently in these works, as a “symbol of shame” representing “the English fist coming down on Scotland”.

However, he says the economic strategies put in place by Chancellor George Osborne and Cameron will harm citizens across the UK, particularly families with disabled children.

Speaking in his Glasgow studio, Howson said he “can’t understand” why Cameron, whose son Ivan suffered from epilepsy and cerebral palsy, does not do more to aid such families.

He said: “I find that almost unbelievable. I don’t know if it’s because he’s dead and he doesn’t have to deal with that day to day any more. But he’s never had to struggle. I know people who have gone loony looking after autistic children. It’s impossible, almost.

“Lucie was ill right from when she was born and then she started showing signs of mental stuff and we said to the doctor we thought it might be autism. The doctor hadn’t even heard of it and he didn’t believe us.

“He said we were just bad parents and he’s since apologised. I can’t imagine if you were on the dole and your husband wasn’t there and you had trouble, maybe drink or something, and you had an autistic son; how would you cope? I have been in the situation where I have been left alone with Lucie and half an hour feels like hours. I didn’t get any sleep at all because she was up and down all night.”

Howson has recently regained his health following a period of psychiatric treatment at Gartnavel General Hospital in Glasgow, continued: “There’s a psychosis in Britain that is down to neglect and people not feeling they have anything to offer society, and it is one of the biggest disgraces of the Tories and the last Labour Government.

“It’s why people voted for the SNP. There’s hope there and they saw that in Nicola Sturgeon. She’s very straight and honest and there’s something almost naively likeable about her, although she’s very intelligent.

“She’s fresh, she doesn’t get worried, she doesn’t lie – and if she did, I think she’d come out and admit it.

“I can think a lot clearer now I’m off drink. I like power in art but I don’t like someone having power over people. When I was in hospital I was told I was insane, and it’s right, you are insane when you’re an alcoholic. But I realised I was probably just as insane as the rest of us. We are all slightly wacky, really – wacky people that get into power are even more so and the people who are in charge now have really got to make you worry.

“I read in the paper that 800,000 middle-class families are going to be better off in the Budget – well, that’s not a lot of people. It infuriates me.”

Howson’s pieces features a knife to represent the cuts, wielded by a demon.

He said: “I think the directness in my work appeals to people. It’s not some intellectual mind game. They don’t have to work out what it means.

“This is just a simple idea of a family who are going to be affected because of the cuts.”