Just less than 3 years ago disabled people marched at the Tory party conference to protest against austerity cuts using the slogan CUTS KILL. Even though it was obvious that the plans outlined by millionaire George Osborne in the June 2010 Spending Review would not be good for disabled people even we did not envisage just how fast our welfare state would be destroyed by the Condems or how many disabled people would be pushed to suicide or death through the malicious Condem cuts.
We could not have imagined that 3 years later we’d be getting daily emails from disabled people and pregnant disabled people who were actually starving and being left without food, money or access to any hardship payments. We knew but couldn’t have possibly imagined that disabled people would have their benefits stopped for weeks and in some cases months without any means to support themselves other than possible prostitution, drug dealing or theft. What do you do when you are already living on the breadline with no savings and your only income is taken away? We never imagined we’d read about children, disabled and non-disabled being left without food.
It’s hard to believe it’s the UK we’re talking about yet this is what life has become for many in the 21st century in the 7th richest nation in the world. We never imagined that we’d go so far backwards that all of the gains made for disabled people’s rights over the last 30 years would effectively just be swept away as disabled people are vilified as shirkers and scroungers.
10,000 Cuts and Counting is a single issue protest against the now discredited computerised Work Capability Assessment executed by ATOS. It has pushed so many disabled people to suicide or death through fear and stress that DWP have now stopped collecting any statistics on the death count but between January 2011 and November 2011, some 10,600 claims ended and a date of death was recorded within six weeks of the claim end. DPAC and other campaigners are proud to have destroyed the ATOS brand name but there is no point in just replacing ATOS with another corporate monster and the WCA must be scrapped in its entirity. Why should any private firm rake in millions and millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to provide a totally flawed service which could be provided by civil servants for a fraction of the cost as has been the case until recently? The WCA was put in place to cut the number of claimants by 1 million either through miracle cures or death it seems.
One of the next major battles disabled people face is the scrapping of Disability Living Allowance put in place to meet the extra costs of being disabled. This too has been designed with only one aim in mind to cut costs and remove 20% of disabled people from entitlement. Many disabled people rely on this income to enable them to work and will no longer be able to if it is lost to them. Even more will be left trapped in their homes with no means to go out.
For anyone who thinks this doesn’t matter to them 6 out of 7 disabled people have an acquired impairment through long term illness or an accident. Most of you will also get older and so how older disabled people are treated should be of great concern to you – it’s your future. Let’s not be polite older disabled people are often treated worse than animals in the UK getting 4 x 15 minutes ‘pop ins’ if they’re lucky and imprisoned in their homes and some left soaking wet the rest of the time.
This is the fate now awaiting younger disabled people from 2015 when without any vote in parliament the Independent Living Fund will be closed leaving local councils to try to replace this funding with ever shrinking budgets and different eligibility criteria.
At the same time they say they want disabled people to work but without this vital support even if found fit for work they are unable to. The Remploy factories have been decimated in the Condem attacks against disabled people supported by some organisations who purport to campaign for us. At last count only about 3% of those made redundant had secured mainstream employment but given the barriers to gaining and keeping employment that disabled people face this was always likely. To this we need to add the benefit cap which is in effect a futher cut.
The Bedroom Tax so loudly condemned by the UN rapporteur Raquel Rolnik existed in the private rented sector since 2008 and Labour who introduced this have singularly forgotten to mention that they originally also planned to roll it out in April 2010 to the social housing sector. None of us should forget that most of these horrors now affecting both disabled and other people were in many cases introduced by Labour and it is time for all of us all to start to tell them what they must do if they want to have a chance of being elected.
It is also way past time for the larger unions to stop pussy-footing around, stop unconditionally supporting a neo-liberal Labour party and force them to act as an effective opposition and outline their real policies. The unions and TUC should have already called a general strike but need to do so now urgently. It is time to add industrial power to community activism if any vestiges of our welfare state are to be salvaged for our children.
Disabled people and others also face a further raft of cuts and attacks to the NHS and in particular mental health services, to health and safety at work legislation, to Access to Work funding, to secure employment and not zero hours contracts, to accessible transport, to accessible housing, a right to mainstream education, cuts to council tax benefit, all coupled with cuts to CAB services, legal aid cuts and lastly the introduction of the Lobbying Bill which regardless of it’s eventual outcome will not silence us in any way. We are now many thousands and we will be heard.
This piece is also due to be published in the Morning Star