'My job is to shine a light into dark corners': Photographer Craig Easton on the ongoing deprivation of Thatcher's Children
Photographer Craig Easton revisits an earlier project from 1992 highlighting intergenerational poverty and documenting three generations of the Williams family.
It's easy to believe that time will pave the way and create beneficial opportunities for those of the future, but documentary photographer Craig Easton has found this not necessarily true, as proven in his series, Thatcher's Children – one that has been turned into a book as well as a new exhibition in Liverpool.
Inspired by the desire "to hold people to account for what I find," Easton has returned to the Williams family, whom he has documented since 1992. Back then, they were made up of just two parents and six children and living in a hostel for homeless families in Blackpool, England. And now, the family spans three generations.
Easton's initial meeting of the Williams was on assignment for the French newspaper Libération to document the 'underclass of scroungers' – so-called by Peter Lilley, the then Secretary of State for Social Security. It was a time of grave social separation in the UK – Easton's pictures of the family's overcrowded two-bedroom council flat in Blackpool sparked a public and emotional response, mainly because of how humanly those featured were depicted.
Since this initial meeting, Easton returned to the Williams family to share his original images and fill in their intervening years. Still, upon returning, he saw the impact of the social policy failures made by various governments and noticed how deprivation has continued to plague them.
With similar hardships at stake – including housing insecurity and unduly dependence on the welfare system – Easton noted that while adversity in the 1990s was largely down to unemployment, in the 2020s, most of the family are working and still confronted with the same financial difficulties.
Easton responded by spending time with the family and regaining their trust. Activities included supermarket trips, spending time at home, attending weddings and witnessing moments of crisis and resolution.
The series – which launched at Liverpool's Open Eye Gallery before touring the rest of the UK – provides commentary on how little has changed in 30 years by comparing then with now to highlight how deprivation continues to exist in modern Britain.
"What has emerged from that project is an intensely personal lens through which to view a widespread social emergency," says journalist Jack Shenker, who provided writing assistance on the project. "The persistence of poverty in one of the wealthiest countries on earth and the insidious ways in which it gets reproduced down the generations."
Given Easton's long-standing documentary work, the accompanying book for the series combines the family's portraits with quotes taken from politicians. This juxtaposition highlights how those in power often ignore families like the Williams – yet restores their power by featuring them as protagonists.
His resilient presentation of their domestic worlds symbolises defiance against the policies that have continued to govern since Thatcher's reign. The photographs very much challenge Thatcher's well-remembered slogan, 'There is no alternative'.
The exhibition 'Is Anybody Listening?' is now on show at Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool until 26 February 2023. The book, Thatcher's Children by Craig Easton, is published by GOST and is available to purchase with 20% of proceeds from sales or pre-orders of the book donated to The Trussell Trust.