According to John Pring’s report on the TUC 26 March rally, many disabled people were there ‘
to protest against cuts to disability benefits and other aspects of the government’s welfare reforms, while others were angry about the impact on inclusive education, and cuts to local services and support.
Peter Purton, the TUC’s disability policy officer, said disabled people were the “worst affected” by the cuts, including disability benefit reforms, the loss of public sector jobs, and cuts to legal aid. He said he was “delighted” that so many disability groups had taken part in the protest.
The Labour MP Dame Anne Begg said she had taken part in the protest to show “solidarity” and that “there is an alternative and we know that the priorities of this government are wrong”.
“It seems to me that those who have least seem to be losing the most and that is simply not fair. Disabled people in particular feel very strongly because they seem to be in the forefront of many of the cuts.”
Criticisms were made of the TUC’s access arrangements, with some complaining that they had had to fight through crowds to reach the allocated “safe space” for disabled people near the front of the march.
The TUC had also said that the disabled people at the front would be able to set their own pace, but they were soon swamped and separated from each other by thousands of marchers who overtook them soon after the march began.
A TUC spokeswoman said it had made “extensive efforts” to make the event as accessible as possible, but was now carrying out an assessment of the access arrangements.
“We would not pretend that everything was perfect or could not be improved, but we are pretty sure that this was the most accessible demonstration of its size ever organised in London.”
She added: “Some reported issues were simply due to the greater than expected numbers.”
That might be true but we hope that this assessment means that they will be improved in the future. We are not convinced that the stewards were briefed enough to afford the right access to disabled people. Hopefully they will give more training to stewards in the future especially if they want disabled people to continue being able to take part in marches of this kind.
There was some disappointment that the Labour leader Ed Miliband failed to mention disabled people in his speech in Hyde Park, even though he mentioned maternity services, Sure Start centres, small business owners, teachers, students, “families struggling to get by”, libraries, Citizens Advice Bureaux, community centres and the NHS.
His spokeswoman said later that other groups had also not been mentioned, and that Miliband had raised the government’s plans to remove the mobility component of disability living allowance from people in residential care at that week’s prime minister’s questions.
“It is an issue he cares about and it is an issue the Labour Party cares about. He is actually aware of the deep concerns and anxieties that disabled people have about the effect of the cuts.”
As disabled people who bears the deepest impact of the cuts on our individual and collective lives we should hope he is more than ‘actually aware’ and that it is not mere ‘deep concerns and anxieties’ but actually feeling the effect of the cuts and drawing blood – that those cuts have taken the toll of a few lives already.
The report also mentioned DPAC’s online protest (which received more than a quarter of a million views) for those unable to attend the march or rally saw an estimated 200 people email messages of support, which were “pinned” to an online map of the UK.