April 11, 2011
TUC protest: Disabled people send powerful messages to government
Disabled people who took part in the huge TUC protest march and rally in London have sent a series of powerful messages to the government about the impact of the cuts on their lives.
They told Disability News Service during Saturday’s event why they had joined the hundreds of thousands of other protesters who took part in the March for the Alternative.
Linda Burnip, a founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, which played a big role in supporting disabled people to take part, said:
“I am hoping to send a really powerful message to all politicians, including Ed Miliband [the Labour leader], that we are not going to be messed around with.”
Stuart Bracking, a member of the Unison union, said he was demonstrating to protect services and to protest about cuts to disability benefits.
“I have been on demonstrations over the last 20 years and the visibility of disabled people is much higher on this demonstration than it has been over the last 20 years.”
Doug Paulley, who lives in a residential home, said he believed disabled people were being “unfairly punished” for “something that wasn’t our fault”.
He said the proposal to stop paying the mobility component of disability living allowance (DLA) to people in residential care was “really sick”.
And he appealed to the government to “stop making up stuff about disabled people and tax the bankers, not the people who can afford it least”.
Deborah Sowerby said she felt as if she was “among friends” on the protest, and added:
“There has not been enough of this coming together. There are a lot of us and we are not going anywhere and that is why we are here today.”
Adrian Whyatt, from the London Autistic Rights Movement, said:
“We need to try and get them to see these cuts are not working.”
He said disabled people were being “targeted” by the government, and pointed to the mobility component decision, and problems with the notorious work capability assessment.
Sian Vasey, director of Ealing Centre for Independent Living, said she was worried about cuts to social services, and added:
“If they dismantle everything they are only going to have to rebuild it again.”
Marian O’Brien, coordinator of Ealing User Involvement Service, said her message to the government was to not privatise services.
“We want to keep our welfare state. The ‘big society’ will not happen because they are cutting back on funding. They are dismantling the welfare state bit by bit.”
Anne Pridmore, chair of Being the Boss, which supports disabled people who employ personal assistants, said she believed the cuts had put disabled people’s rights back 20 years, while the government’s reforms were about “trying to get big businesses rich”.
“I am so angry. In three years’ time it looks like I will end up in an old people’s home. Without support, people will not be able to get up in the morning. If disabled people have not got the support packages they will not be able to go to work anymore.”
Her colleague Jan Turner said:
“I am here because of the service cuts, because of all of the money they are spending on the census and the Afghan war and the Gaddafi war and all the tax evasion.
“I think they are doing unnecessary cuts to people who are vulnerable. I am doing it for other people who can’t protest.”
Sheila Blair, also from Being the Boss, said:
“I volunteer with a lot of organisations. What I don’t want is for a lot of organisations like the ones I volunteer for to get to a position where they have no staff and everything is done by volunteers in the name of the ‘big society’, which is a lot of shit. I just get very angry about it all.”
Frank Lerner, a retired head teacher, said:
“Everything I have ever worked for in my life is being destroyed. I just think that this government is out to destroy the infrastructure of our society for their own easy ends.
“The cuts are nothing to do with what is needed, they are to do with what they want to achieve. It is dogma rather than necessity.”
Raymond Johnson, from People First (Self Advocacy), said he believed the banks should be forced to make cuts rather than disabled people.
“Obviously there are lots of people here against the stupid cutbacks. Saying ‘we are all in this together’, I don’t think so. There are a hell of a lot of people here.”
Sandy Marks said she was protesting “because I can and because when they have finished with us I will not be able to”.
Sarah Fisher, from Knutsford, Cheshire, said:
“The banks got us into this mess but it is the ones who are least able to cope with cuts who are going to be paying for it. There is no fairness in what is happening.”
“I am hoping that this will help. I think if nothing else it will give a wake-up call to the government in that not everybody is behind this ‘we are all in this together’.”
Lisa Egan, co-founder of the Where’s the Benefit? blog, said she was there
“to protest against the cuts, because I need the welfare state and the NHS in order not to die”.
Louise Hickman, from Hackney, said she had joined the protest because of the “vulnerability of support for disabled people in further education”.
Olcay Lee said: “We are here to stop the cuts if we can.”
Her husband, Andrew, director of People First (Self Advocacy), said:
“Disabled people didn’t actively put us in this mess.
“We are very concerned that cutting services for disabled people, there is no logic to where the cuts are actually being made.
“Yes, we need to get the country into a better shape but disabled people need the right support. Without the right support there will be more money [needed] to clear up the mess.”
Andrew Hart said he was at the protest as a disabled trade union member, the trustee of a voluntary organisation that was suffering from the cuts, and the father of a son with autism, who was facing the loss of education maintenance allowance (EMA) as he prepared to start sixth form college.
Riven Vincent, from Bristol, the disabled mother who caused a media storm after saying she had asked her council to take her disabled child into care because of a lack of respite, called on the government to rethink its DLA reforms, and its plans to remove the mobility component from those in residential care.
“I am marching because of the cuts that will affect disabled people, including my daughter Celyn (Williams).
“I have met David Cameron and he promised none of his cuts would affect disabled people and he has lied.”
Dean Thomas, from Nottingham, said he was on the march “because I can be here. For other people who can’t be here. The cutbacks are focused on the most vulnerable people in society. They are completely wrong.”
John, who asked not to give his surname, said he had joined the march because services were under threat.
He was scornful of David Cameron’s “big society”, and said:
“The expectation that there will be all these volunteers to do the jobs is a bit false. There are already volunteers in society. How many more are there going to be?”
Margie Hill, from Knowsley, Merseyside, a member of the Unison union who works in local government, said she believed the government wanted to target disabled people, and was going to “try to pick them off, get rid of them” and “scupper our benefits”, while any new jobs would go to non-disabled people.
Catherine Callaghan, also from Knowsley, has been made redundant from her job with Greater Merseyside Connexions Partnership, which she said had cut more than 40 per cent of its workforce.
She had worked there with disabled young people, and said the loss of EMA meant young people would be “dropping out in their droves from education, hanging round the streets and there will not be people like us to interact with them to get them back on track”.
Jonathan Bartley, who is not disabled but cornered David Cameron in front of TV cameras before last year’s general election about his battle to secure a mainstream school place for his disabled son, Samuel, said his wife had lost her job at Sure Start.
“Clearly it is affecting our family, our whole community, and it is very important that the government understands that this is not what the country voted for.
“What seems to be happening is the poorest and the most vulnerable are paying the price for the financial crisis they didn’t get us into.”
John Pring is the editor/founder of Disability News Service.
March 29, 2011
Originally published on Lisy Babe’s blog and republished with kind permission from her.
Based on the TUC’s access info I’d planned to meet a bunch of other WtBers in Savoy Street for 11am. This was supposed to be the gathering point for disabled people to have a “safe space” at the front of the march. I have brittle bones and I was with 2 people whose joints dislocate easily so the notion of a “safe” space where we wouldn’t get smacked around was pretty important for us to protest, you know, safely.
The pink cross on the map shows where we gathered and the turquoise line shows how far we had to walk through a sea of people to get to that “safety”. Moving through large crowds as a wheelchair user is not easy at the best of times. You’re at arse height to everyone else and people don’t tend to look down when they move around so they walk into you, trip over you and generally leave you feeling pretty bruised. Add banners, flags and other things that feel like weapons when people hit you with them and it’s even worse.
So that the TUC had us gather some distance away and then walk through the crowd where we got a bit battered was a serious common sense fail. Between the lack of logic and getting smacked around I started off the march really quite pissed off.
This was us gathering in Savoy Street looking cheerful prior to our adventure through the crowd:
This was my view of people’s backs as we were making our way through the crowd:
And it’s worth noting that I took this photo at a point while walking through the crowd when I had enough room around me to actually do so! I spent a lot of the time using my arms to protect my face from people’s backpacks and such.
Eventually we did make it to the “special” spot:
Thankfully once we’d made it through the crowd and the march set off there were no more such access fail dramas. As a result I began to really enjoy myself. The following 3 photos were taken by Emsy during the march:
We made it into Hyde Park at about 1pm (after what seemed like quite a long human traffic jam at Hyde Park Corner). Most of us quickly nipped to the loo and then headed off to Soho Square for the UK Uncut comedy at 2.
I didn’t want to stick around in Hyde Park for the rally mainly because
Mr “I’m in favour of cutting disability benefits” Miliband was speaking. I
feared my anger at him would cause me to regress a few evolutionary steps
and start flinging faeces
I’ve always been disabled, but until about 5 years ago I was perfectly “healthy”; I was free from illness. For many people there’s a massive overlap between “illness” and “impairment”, but there’s also some differences too. So I’ve always had a rubbish skeleton but before I acquired a plethora of illnesses unrelated to my mobility impairment I used to do that working-for-a-living thing.
I used to be a stand-up comic. Yes, I’m aware of the irony of a wheelchair-using stand-up.
On Friday evening while I was in the supermarket shopping for more T-shirts to iron the WtB logo onto a thought occurred to me: “It’s comedy against the cuts. I’m doing all this stuff about the cuts to disability benefits and I have a background in comedy; I should be speaking.” So I emailed the organisers and asked if I could do a short set. The reply I got back was “the line up’s pretty full, but we’ll try and fit you in.” But in the end (and with a little help from the lovely Johann) I ended up on the bill.
This photo by Chris Coltrane who compered the gig shows what the crowd looked like from where the acts were (and makes me happy that I ironed the WtB logo onto the back of my T-shirt):
That’s Josie Long performing. She opened the show. The crowd had gotten much, much, bigger by the time I went on. This CiF piece estimates there were nearly 1000 people watching the show. I wouldn’t have thought there were quite that many, but there were certainly a couple of hundred.
Against all the odds I had a brilliant gig. Look, people were smiling and laughing!
If you look you can even see Mark Thomas laughing along in that pic.
I’m actually quite proud of that as he is, basically, the industry standard to which all political comedy gets compared.
I say “against all the odds” because by rights I really should have died on my arse. It’s 3 and a half years since I last gigged due to becoming too ill to carry on with the comedy thang. Usually if you take a break from comedy for 3 and a half weeks you come back to find your timing’s a little off and your rhythm’s a bit out. And I wasn’t doing tried and tested material, I was doing stuff that I’d written 12 hours earlier because I only had the idea to ask to go on about 18 hours before I ended up on “stage”. I shouldn’t have been “in shape” enough to deal with a heckler and turn around a joke that was a bit of a dud. OK, the heckler was very nice and friendly but it’s still an interruption to your rhythm and you need to regain control and come out on top with a laugh.
Somehow it was all OK. Sure, it wasn’t my best gig ever but given everything going against me it went so much better than I could ever possibly have dreamed of.
In the past I used to mix up jokes about disability issues and other stuff because if I’d only talked about disability I’d never have been able to hold the attention of a non-disabled audience. But given that Saturday was such a political gig and the reason I’d asked to speak was to talk about benefits I did a set solely about cuts to disability benefits. The only reaction I was really expecting was some polite applause when I finished from people thinking “aw, wasn’t that nice the disabled woman telling us about benefits.” I wasn’t expecting such a warm response and to come off stage to have all my friends hug me at once. It was like being mauled by an octopus, but in a nice way.
I’ve always thought that comedy had a wonderful capacity for education, another reason I really wanted to speak. So I was chuffed to bits when I got home to read this in The Guardian’s Live Blog about the day:
I just spoke to two teenagers aged 17 and 19 who have come from the comedy show in Soho Square, and they said that what they heard there made them think more than anything they have ever learnt at school. It’s their first demonstration and when I asked why they came they said they realised that the demonstration is about more than just the UK.
They can understand the connection between the shops and the banks that people are targetting and the global situation that is effecting everyone. They’ve heard Mark Thomas and a disabled comedian and Johann Hari speak. For these teenagers the protest is absolutely opening their minds to a much wider picture.
Noa, who snapped that pic of me in action, said:
you rocked it woman, it was FUNNY and also very disturbing to learn a few of the stories you shared. many thanks and please keep healthy and get back on stage where you belong!
I’m absolutely thrilled that I opened some people’s eyes to what’s going on for disabled people in the UK. There’s a couple of extracts from my set in the Laugh Out London podcast.
I left Soho Square on such an adrenaline high. I’d taken a huge gamble in asking to do a set but it absolutely paid off. I would have skipped home if I could, you know, skip.
Then came the sadness. I love doing stand up so much. It’s such an amazing feeling when you’ve got hundreds of people laughing at jokes you wrote, and Saturday was a reminder of just how thrilling it is. It’s so painful that I’m not well enough to perform any more. I have good days and bad, Saturday was obviously a good day. But the sheer frequency of the bad days means that I can’t book gigs more than 14 hours in advance because I can never guarantee that I’ll be well enough to show up. It doesn’t matter if you have a legitimate reason for not showing up to a gig, if you let a promoter down they’re not going to book you again and will very possibly bad-mouth you to other promoters. I have this thing that I love doing, and Saturday reminded me that I’m actually reasonably good at it, but my health prevents me from pursuing it. And the government and tabloids really think I’d rather be stuck at home claiming benefits than out following my dreams?
The other element of sadness on Saturday night came from watching BBC News attributing the Black Bloc protesters smashing things up to UK Uncut. UK Uncut are a group of peaceful protesters who’d given me this wonderfully enjoyable afternoon of comedy in a park. And here these lovely people were being falsely accused of violence and vandalism. It was deeply disappointing.
Despite the day starting with access fail and ending in sadness I don’t think I’ll ever forget that chunk of a few hours in the middle where I had the best time I’ve had in years.
Cross-posted at Where’s the Benefit?