An extract from From Under A Cloud On Heartbreak Hill: Transcending Hardship: Surviving And Exposing Universal Credit – a new book from Gary Knapton

In Imperial Britain and Colonial America sufferers of mental illness were branded insane. They were derided, mocked, feared and cast out. Later, under the new Republic and as Victorian society emerged and evolved here on the Isle of Great Britain, it was deemed more fitting to care for and protect these less fortunate members of society. Great buildings were built. Great asylums. The word “asylum” in the dictionary imputes qualities of care and protection. A reprieve.

Yet in the course of time, the new compassion was corrupted by the old taboos and prejudices such that the great overarching systems and institutions of the welfare state wound up exacerbating the sufferings they were designed to alleviate.

This very gradual fall from grace – a stealthy transformation from a function of care to a function of containment, castigation and even punishment, held sway for centuries. It is only very recently that structural changes began to address the tragedy. Very large mental institutions, the insides of which remained a secret to the public at large, often wound up seeking to preserve themselves at the cost of those at the heart of their original purpose.

Their very magnitude, complexity and unfortunate mission created a great curtain of mystery and invisibility ripe for the incompetent meddling, mismanagement and outright abuse of the powers that be.

I am a forty-seven-year-old Englishman living in Salford in Greater Manchester and as I write it is but two weeks from 2019. I am not insane. I am not in the throes of the acute mental health system. I am on Universal Credit – a modern form of Unemployment Benefit. I live in a high rise block in what might loosely be termed a social housing scheme typical of these social, political and economic times.

And from the inside of this type of social and political institution, I see parallels with state institutions of the past.

This is my story from within.

Gary Knapton, December 2019

Mr Writer. Why don’t you tell it like it is? Stereophonics

Books are engines of change, windows on the world. Lighthouses in the sea of time. Barbara Tuchman

Moving onto the block, they say, will either give you heart or break you. This development sits high on a hill a couple of miles north of the old Manchester docks, now known as Salford Quays. Therefore, out of a respect for its notoriety, local residents refer to my block, one of nineteen high rises and the most notorious in a huge inner city sink estate, as Heartbreak Hill.

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