Socialist Worker

Thousands protest against disability benefit cuts

Viv Smith and Siân Ruddick report from Hardest Hit march in London

Issue No. 2251

Disability rights activists march to parliament in protest at government plans (Pic: http://www.guysmallman.com/Guy Smallman )

Disability rights activists march to parliament in protest at government plans (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Up to 5,000 disabled people marched on parliament today.

They were protesting against government attacks on the disability living allowance (DLA), the retesting of people claiming incapacity benefits, the removal of the mobility allowance for people in residential care, and cuts to local authority support services.

Anger at the Tory cuts was palpable. The most popular chant targeted the minister for disabled people—“Maria Miller you will pay, do not cut our DLA”.

There was determination to resist.

Beverley and Keith have cerebral palsy. They came to the march from their care home in Cheshire, Crewe.

“The government wants to take away our mobility allowance. That will leave us stuck at home all day, every day,” Keith told Socialist Worker.

Beverley said, “I would not have been able to come here today without the allowance I get.”

Trauma

Keith and Beverly have very limited mobility. They spoke of the trauma of being questioned about their need for benefits.

“It’s degrading,” Keith added. “I’ve had cerebral palsy for 22 years, we don’t deserve this.”

Disabled students from across Britain also joined the protest.

Matt, from Sheffield Hallam University, and Robyn, from Leeds, are both members of the National Union of Students Disabled Students’ Committee.

Robyn told Socialist Worker, “I was told that because I could walk from one end of my front room to the other I don’t need any mobility benefits.

“It’s as if we claim for the sake of it. But it is really difficult for disabled students to study at a further or higher education level because there just isn’t the help we need.”

Matt agreed. “Only 15 percent of young people with disabilities carry on studying after leaving school. It’s too difficult and expensive.

“We are here today because we will be hardest hit by these cuts. Unless we take action the cuts will go through unchallenged.

“People with disabilities are now literally at risk of losing their lives because of poverty. More are contemplating suicide. It’s wrong.”

Rodrick Cobley from the London Autistic Rights Movement said there was a debate within the movement among non-charitable organisations about attending the march.

“Some people said that the march was called by charities that are dependent on the government and local councils and therefore were more open to compromises.

“But we decided to take part and engage with the thousands who are here and want to fight. We want radical resistance involving ordinary people.”

The Department for Work and Pensions—the people who help people with disabilities—is also being cut. Dave Bean, vice-president of the PCS civil service union spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity.

“The Equalities and Human Rights Commission faces 68 percent of cuts too. So there will be no one for a disabled person to go to if they need support and advice.

“The Tories are demanding that people with disabilities pay for the crisis far above and beyond what others are asked to pay. None of us should be paying for a crisis we didn’t create.

“The government could put resources into employing more workers to generate income, like those who work in the HMRC as tax collectors. Over £120 billion tax is avoided, evaded or unpaid each year. That would deal with the deficit. But it doesn’t suite the Tories ideological agenda.”

Vulnerable

Actress and disabled advocate Jane Asher spoke at the rally before the march set off.

“The prime minister promised savings would be made fairly and would protect the vulnerable,” she said. “But these cuts are bearing down on the most vulnerable in our society.”

When Labour shadow minister Liam Byrne stood up to speak he received a mixed response. Some shouted, “What did you ever do to help us?”

He said that the day should be used as “a day of reckoning” for the coalition.

Despite the tabloid press portrayal of disabled people as scroungers, less than 2 percent of people found guilty of benefit fraud are disabled.

Mark Harrison, the chief executive of the Coalition of Disabled People, called for a vote of no confidence in Maria Miller. A huge cheer went up from the crowd. When he asked for votes against there was silence. “Unanimous,” he said.

Gerry, a student supported by the Educational Maintenance Allowance and a learning statement, told the crowd, “This is a crisis caused by the banks and tax avoidance. This is the fault of the capitalist system.”

Protesters raised their voices as they passed parliament, before entering it to lobby MPs.

Youcef Beyzekkoub, from Transport for All, told Socialist Worker, “We are fighting to make public transport accessible to people with disabilities. This is a huge issue.

“It will be hard to stop the cuts, but we have to try. That’s why it is important that the trade unions are getting involved and maybe preparing to strike to defend services, not just jobs. Together we can do it.”

The Tories may have hoped their disability benefit cuts would pass unopposed because disabled people may find it harder to resist.

They were wrong.


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Wed 11 May 2011, 18:16 BST
Issue No. 2251
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