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  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

"Sick Note Culture" - The British public's abusive relationship with the Conservative government

Updated: May 9

Where to start on this one? I got back from a wonderful few days in Italy working with my art collective, Dare to Care, on an exhibition and arts programme centred around mental health advocacy - to the latest round of stigmatising bullshit courtesy of the Tory government...

Part of me just cannot understand the abject cruelty of this Conservative government. The other part of me knows that they are heartless, self-serving, entitled, privileged [insert expletive of choice] who don't have the capacity to care about anyone but themselves.


Anyone who has an iota of compassion should consider signing sign this petition.

With a general election coming up in 2024, PM Rishi Sunak’s electoral strategy appears to be systematically targeting the most vulnerable minorities in our society; refugees, trans people and the disabled.


In a recent speech on “welfare reform”, the prime minister claimed he would tackle Britain’s “sick note culture” by overhauling the benefits system.


I have to ask who the Tories believe is responsible for the ‘unprecedented rise in economic inactivity due to long term sickness with latest figures showing almost a third of working age adults are inactive’. 14 years of Conservative government (Austerity, corruption, scandals and Brexit) is enough to make even the most resilient person depressed.


In a country where 18% of the population were living in absolute poverty in 2022-23, is it any wonder many of them are too sick to work? Good physical and mental health costs money, especially when the strained and failing NHS is unable to provide the free healthcare citizens need.

Honestly, this latest rhetoric from the prime minister feels like the British public are in an abusive relationship with someone who has bullied and neglected us to the point of tears and is now berating and punishing us for crying in despair.

Mental health campaigners have called out the prime minister’s speech as ‘deliberately increasing stigma to call mental health a “culture”, to suggest that it is a “choice”… there are things which have a really measurable negative impact on mental health they can be either causal or they can be exacerbating. They are things like; not having enough time to have a work-life balance, worrying about money, not having access to sports… arts, not having a community, discrimination. And the number one vulnerability factor for any health condition whether mental or physical is poverty and under any measure these things have got worse under the Tories. They have also stripped NHS mental health services to the bone… And now, they are trying to the people who are suffering as a result, that their problems aren’t real - and that is not okay.’


For the exhibition in Italy, I had created three wall-hangings which explored stitching as a metaphor for empathy and self-compassion. So, I decided to create a fourth artwork in the style, but with the words “SICK NOTE CULTURE” written in Conservative Party Blue.

The Tories have "broken Britain" - let's help the country start to heal at the next general election by electing a government with care at its core.

Boudicca has taken to perching on my back when I work kneeling / lying on the floor. Fortunately she's very small for a Maine Coon, so it's not too cumbersome.

I'm not sure how well this piece turned out - the main purpose was an expression of rage at the repeated weaponisation of the vulnerabile by those in positions of power. If not anything else, it has made a nice illustration for what has inadvertently turned into an "opinion piece" style rant and an excuse to discuss the matter with my social media followers. Some comments:

As I was making this, I reflected on how the Prime Minister's choice of words was simultaneously so harmful and so vacuous - a remarkable achievement. I started day-drreaming about the idea of a "sick note" counter-culture and wondered what that could look like; events which prioritise well-being organised by the diabled and mentally ill, a fashion line of out-of-work-wear, "sick note" pin badges, etc. When I was a child, if someone said something was "sick" - it meant it was cool or somehow impresive. Maybe a "sick note" is just musical note that's "down wiv da kidz" - I recently saw a comedic TikTok reel that questioned whether you could "summon a whole generation just by playing one note" - they then played a sing note on a grand piano. Maybe I was too much of an emo-kid growing up but, I instantly knew which song they were referring to and got the joke. Maybe the first note of 'The Black Parade' is the "sickest note" in modern culture.

I think my brain might be taking this whole train of thought way too far, but I think it's given me an idea for a costume / wearable protest artwork with a more satirical / subversive delivery. I'm currently sourcing materials, so that I can attempt to execute the idea. I'll write a blog update with how it goes.


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