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.
January 28, 2011
Disabled People Against Cuts as a campaigning group was established by disabled people who came together to protest at the Tory Party Conference against the so called emergency measures later announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review. Within our ranks are people who have a track record of working within both mainstream and disability politics at national and international levels.
DPAC firmly sees the issue of disability as being a political one; where people with impairments are subjected to ‘unequal and differential treatment’ as a result of social relationships found within society. From this political perspective DPAC believes the campaign against the cuts has to be understood within the context of the overall struggle against injustice and inequality – not only do disabled people cover all the equality strands, their unnecessary exclusion from mainstream social activities means many have been denied the right or opportunity to forge meaningful relationships with non-disabled people. Whilst the cuts themselves will have differing amounts of impact upon individual disabled persons’ lives, DPAC believes the cumulative effect upon disabled people’s lives will mean a removal of human and civil rights and the deepening of the experience of social oppression.
There is an old saying, “My enemy’s enemy is my friend”, however there are real dangers lurking within this crude logic. Not all who oppose the cuts are doing so for reasons which benefit all people or to support disabled people in particular. DPAC is willing to work with a broad spectrum of forces who are in opposition to the cuts however we will not support or work with campaigns or organisations we believe are a threat to disabled people’s rights and where we see disabled people being used as a stepping stone to further these bodies own interests at disabled people’s expense.
In a similar fashion DPAC fully accepts that probably the majority of disabled and non-disabled people have never viewed disability as a form of social oppression or wouldn’t necessarily support what DPAC stands for.
Since the 1980s the politics of the Disabled People’s Movement have been characterised as ‘not representative’ especially by Government who, in the very next breath, have turned towards the disability charities to discover what “is best for disabled people”. The Disabled People’s Movement has been typical of most social movements for change in the sense that it has progressed through various stages.
Some of the most political elements within the Movement warned in the early 1990s that the Movement put itself at risk if it put all its eggs in one basket by focusing solely on the struggle for anti-discrimination legislation. It has also been said the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act was a “victory” for the Movement however all the evidence suggests the exact opposite – this feeble piece of legislation became a major disabling barrier to real social change. New Labour used it to cause deep divisions among the disabled community and as a consequence the Disabled People’s Movement fragmented and went into steady decline.
What has this to do with DPAC and the current battle? We believe the last few years have weakened disabled people’s collective voice. Many individuals and organisations appear to ‘talk the talk’ in the language of the Movement but their practices show they no longer ‘walk the walk’ and it has become increasingly more difficult to make a distinction between them and the traditional disability charities who have stolen the clothes of the Movement but never the less continue to oppress disabled people in their residential homes and services. Other disabled people have undergone a 180 degree shift and now align themselves with these charities against disabled activists and their organisations. The weakened collective voice also means a fracturing of the ‘politics of disability’ – there is a whole generation of disabled people who have no idea of the battles won and lost. Basic ideas behind the politics of disability have become either watered down or lost completely. It isn’t something DPAC wants to admit to but it has to be said: disabled people are fighting for their lives from a position of weakness – oppression has always held us back, but the de-politicisation of the Disabled People’s Movement is a further hurdle we are being forced to overcome.
In the present climate simply by staying grounded within the politics of disability DPAC risks being characterised as “extremists” or “sectarian”. We would argue that the drift towards pandering to dominant representations of disability and disabled people and the accommodation of traditional disability charities leaves us no choice but to draw a line in the stand and be critical of people who might be viewed as “fighting alongside” disabled people. It is also important to understand what sectarian means. It usually means only prepared to work within narrow framework. DPAC wants to work with and support opposition to the cuts and we certainly aren’t asking anyone to recite the social model of disability to us or follow a specific ‘political line’ before we engage with them, but it is equally the case that we will not work with or support any organisation or campaign, no matter how well intentioned or popular, if we believe the rights and interests of disabled people – not just our own – would be damaged by our involvement or by the messages being conveyed and actions undertaken.
We will evaluate each and every approach made and ensure our decisions are based upon serving the best interests of disabled people both in terms of the fight against the cuts and the wider struggle against disablism. Where we feel there is a need to be critical of others we will attempt to do so in a reasoned manner and by the same token DPAC will pay our utmost attention to any criticism aimed at our campaigning.
Finally, we know there is another old saying, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. We are aware that not all organisations with charitable status or campaigns not led by Disabled People’s Organisations are out to do disabled people harm or damage their interests. DPAC will not aim a size nine boot in the direction of everyone who utters a disablist word or fails to remove disabling barriers immediately! We are here to help make a real difference and that includes supporting others to understand the implications of their actions or inaction. Disablism has a huge influence within society and its harm is not always obvious.