One group who are hoping the Theresa May will lose her election gamble must surely be disabled people, who were singled out by Tories, at first under the coalition government, for special treatment, ‘welfare reforms’ that were designed to cut costs and have resulted in the deaths of a considerable number. Ministers, particularly Iain Duncan Smith, mistakenly saw them as an easy target who because of their disability would be limited in their efforts to fight back.
It isn’t entirely fair to blame the Tories, who were partly just ratcheting up the screw that had already been set up by New Labour with their introduction of inappropriate tests designed largely to cut costs by denying benefits, administered in a tick-box fashion by inadequately trained operatives working for unscrupulous companies who were given financial incentives to fail claimants – and not penalised for the fact that around 70% – more than two out of three – of those who appealed had their appeals upheld.
So many of those who were found to be fit for work died shortly afterwards that the DWP decided it wouldn’t keep details. Others have died even more directly because of losing their benefits. One of the banners at this and other protests, held below by the sister of David Clapson, a diabetic ex-soldier who starved to death after losing his benefits, lists around a hundred people whose deaths were due to sanctions and benefit cuts, but these are only the tip of an iceberg, with many going unrecorded.
‘Cuts Kill’ say some of the placards – including one with a cleaver being held by a woman in a wheelchair. I didn’t pose this picture, but took advantage when she lowered it during the protest at the Vauxhall PIP consultation Centre in Vauxhall, one of the centres where ATOS carry out sham Personal Independence Payments ‘assessments’ on behalf of the DWP.
Later I joined with a larger group of protesters in Westminster who were protesting against the Personal Independence Payments. The organisers of the protest, DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts), MHRN (Mental Health Resistance Network) and WinVisible ((Women With Visible and Invisible Disabilities) say that the day of protest against PIP was organised because:
“The evidence shows that even more genuine claimants are having their lives blighted in an exercise whereby their benefits are removed for months on end, in many cases leading to a serious deterioration in the health conditions and Mental Health issues, and in a growing number of cases, premature deaths.“
Disabled people have led the fight against the Tory government – because for many of them it is quite simply a matter of life or death. Some have seen many of their friends already die because of these policies, and others being unable to continue the independent and productive lives that benefits had allowed them.
At this protest they held a rally on the pavement outside outside the Victoria St offices of Capita PLC, before briefly blocking the road, one of the main routes in Westminster and then marched to the offices of the DWP for a second rally and finally continuing to Parliament for a short stop on the roadway in front, and finishing by going to College Green, where the broadcast media gather to interview politicians.
This was roped off with police to keep the public at bay, but disabled protesters are made of sterner stuff and made their way onto the green, just a few yards from the TV crews, almost all of whom studiously ignored them, though I think their banners and chanting may have appeared in the background of some interviews. But with the exception of a few foreign news crews, protests in the UK are generally not reported.
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