Socialist Worker

'Disabled people won't be victims any more'

Disabled activists speak out to Viv Smith

Issue No. 2248

The Tories have launched an all-out attack on disabled people in Britain. As the economic crisis continues to bite, they have turned on people they consider are not making their contribution to society.

To do this, the government is attempting to make £4.4 billion in cuts by pushing vulnerable people off benefits and into work, whether it is suitable for them or not.

It is also slashing Disability Living Allowance, meaning hundreds of thousands of people could lose benefits.

The Tories have given the multinational Atos a £500 million contract to conduct medical assessments on 1.6 million people as part of the benefits revolution.

These have seen many claimants being denied the Employment and Support Allowance, as Atos has deemed them fit for work.

Disabled people and their supporters have refused to take this silently. They have taken to the streets in large numbers over the last few months, including joining the TUC’s 26 March protest.

Many took part in a day of action by disability rights activists and anti-cuts campaigners across the country on Thursday of last week.

Stranger

Lani spoke to Socialist Worker at a protest outside the Atos testing office in Islington, north London. She said, “The government should not be privatising the benefits system and using companies like Atos who operate for profit.

“They think it is possible to assess someone’s needs and issues in 15 minutes. That’s madness.

“It becomes a demeaning process, especially if you don’t have a visible disability. The questions they ask are often difficult to discuss.

“You have to tell a stranger your personal issues, knowing that your life may depend on what they decide. The process destroys our personal liberty.”

Andy Greene agreed. He said, “People are being tested in minutes and decisions made that affect their whole lives. Healthcare professionals who work with and know the people being tested are not involved.

“One interview is meant to cover ­everything from your housing and health needs to your work and social life.”

Disabled people face a generalised assault from the government and the media.

Andy added, “The majority of the mainstream media portrays us as feckless scroungers. But most disabled people don’t even get the support they are entitled to.

“All disabled people want is respect and to be part of society. Our society should be supporting people to live their lives as independently as possible so that people can get involved in their communities, work, and have a social and family life.

“Instead we have a government that, just like Labour before it, is handing millions to private companies.

“How can any government justify subsidising multinationals and tax breaks for the rich while allowing disabled people to lie hungry in their own homes because there is no support for them?”

Claire spoke to Socialist Worker at a protest against the Daily Mail. She said, “The Daily Mail and the media are waging a propaganda war against people who are entitled to benefits.

“They want to destroy the notion that people are entitled to support.

“Income support and carers’ allowance is being taken away. They expect family members to do this for free. But what if you have no one?

“There is plenty of money from bankers’ bonuses and the unpaid tax of the rich, but it doesn’t come our way.

“I claim benefits and I worry about my life and what is going to happen when I am re-tested. We have to keep fighting.”

The government’s cuts programme is also having a major impact on disabled people and those who support them.

Raging

“We are facing a mountain of cuts,” said Deborah, who works as an advocate for adults with mild learning difficulties.

“Services will be cut back and the people who do the work will see their salaries reduced in real terms. This will take place in a sector where salaries are already incredibly low.

“It means that there are fewer of us trying to fight a raging fire.

“The people we work with need help with some of the day to day things other people take for granted, such as paying bills, sorting out their housing and health.

“It is intensive work, which takes time. The cuts will mean that the stress levels of disabled people will increase dramatically. We face possibly losing one of our services that helps get people out of the house on a regular basis.

“It will mean people will be forced to stay at home more. That has a knock-on effect because people suffer from increased isolation and depression.

“All this exposes the lie behind David Cameron’s big society. How can it work when the groups supposed to help run it are having their funding cut?

“Who has the time to volunteer to do this kind of work? Everyone is trying to survive. That is why our organisation is taking part in the national disability protest on 11 May—it has to be big.”

Hardest Hit March, 11.30am, Wednesday 11 May, Embankment, London


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