Disabled people protest benefits cuts deaths in Cambridge
Thursday, 1st August 2019, Disabled People Against the Cuts (Cambridgeshire and Essex), a local group of disabled people (affiliated with the national organisation DPAC), and The Cambridge People’s Assembly Against Austerity joined with Unite Community in their national day of action against Universal Credit. We held a stall outside the Grafton Centre to talk to the public about the cruelty of Universal Credit and the punitive ‘welfare’ regime of the Department for Work and Pensions.
After the stall, we moved to the Job Centre on Chesterton Road, Cambridge, for a demonstration in solidarity with claimants and to protest the dangerous and cruel changes to the benefits system. We talked to disabled people and other claimants outside the centre. Many of them told us how the toll of long waits and uncertainty had affected them, and we extended our solidarity and shared with them our own experiences of the system.
On the pavement we unfurled a scroll with the names from ‘Calum’s list’, a list of 65 people (many of them disabled people) who have died as a result of horrendously negative engagements with the Department for Work and Pensions, in their attempt to try to secure the government support that they were entitled to. In many of these cases coroners’ reports have ruled that the actions of the Department for Work and Pensions were instrumental in leading to the deaths of the people involved. In thousands more deaths, welfare cuts have been a major factor.
Towards the end of the protest we went inside the Job Centre to register our objection to the cruel policies that are followed here in Cambridge, and the humiliation that they cause for claimants. As we tried to unfurl our scroll with the names from Calum’s List again, one of the security guards took hold of it, screwing it up and throwing it out through the doors. This disregard for the people who have suffered and died at the hands of the DWP truly shocked us. A member of DPAC who was part of the protest said:
‘One of the staff members told us “we don’t make the policies”. But by continuing to work to the commands of our vicious government the staff enable the system to continue: a system that is literally killing people, and causing extreme distress to huge numbers of people. As disabled people, we refuse to stay silent while austerity kills us.’
Universal Credit has not yet been rolled out to all disabled people in Cambridge, but the change is scheduled to happen by 2020. Among those who have been switched over countrywide, thousands have lost ‘their ‘severe disability premium’, and the government has been horrendously slow in rectifying this problem. Universal Credit is also a ‘digital by default’ system meaning that it has to be applied for online; this makes it inaccessible to many. The coming change to Universal Credit is a clear threat to us.
As we try to bring hope and solidarity to disabled people and other claimants who are stuck in the DWP’s interminable bureaucracy, we also remember those of us who could no longer fight this horrendous system. Our society needs to change – there must be no more deaths from the loss of benefits. Please join us to fight for our rights. You can find us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/1465750740224453/
Information for editors
Disabled People Against Cuts Cambridgeshire and Essex is a local group affiliated with the national organisation Disabled People Against Cuts. The local group was formed in 2015, and aims to reverse the cuts to benefit entitlements for disabled people so that we can live in dignity, free of the fear of destitution that we experience currently.