Hours before the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games in Brazil tonight, Wednesday, disabled activists blocked Westminster Bridge in London.
The protest in central London was part of a week of action called by Disabled People Against Cuts (Dpac). Protesters hung a giant banner from the bridge and rallied opposite Downing Street chanting, “No more deaths from benefit cuts”.
Gill Thompson’s brother David Clapson died three years ago after he was sanctioned, meaning his job seekers’ allowance benefit was cut off. This meant he couldn’t pay for electricity to keep his medication cool.
Gill told Socialist Worker, “My brother died for missing two appointments. He’d worked all his life, and had been attending placements and trying to find a job.
“Sanctions are such a harsh punishment for people who’ve committed no criminal offence and face no judge or jury—just a letter through the door. They say sanctions are a last resort, but so many people overturn them on appeal it shows something is going wrong.”
Gill is campaigning for an independent inquiry into benefit sanctions. This was recommended by a parliamentary select committee inquiry into David’s death last year, but rejected by the government.
Dpac activist Maggie read out the names of people who, like David, had died after being sanctioned, found “fit to work” or otherwise hit by benefit cuts.
Maggie said, “Thousands have lost their lives because they can no longer cope. But has this government changed anything? No, they just push on with their flagship Universal Credit with no regard for the consequences.”
John Clarke, organiser of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty in Canada, is one of the main speakers at a Dpac conference on struggles around the world on Saturday. He told protesters to “fight to win” rather than settling for “moral protest”.
The protest’s other main demand was the publication of a United Nations (UN) report into the government’s austerity measures.
In June, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights found that Tory welfare cuts violate disabled people’s human rights back. But the government has yet to publish its report.
Andy Greene from Dpac told the crowd, “The Paralympics are bread and circuses being used to distract people from what’s going on.” He challenged prime minister Theresa May, “What have you got to hide?”