No More Benefit Deaths!

The ‘Rights Not Games‘ week of actions to highlight the cuts are causing to the disabled to coincide with the Rio Paralympics continued on the Wednesday around Westminster, with DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts), MHRN (Mental Health Resistance Network) and others taking part.

This was the day the Paralympics began in RIO, and the day started with a ‘banner drop’ on the bank of the Thames directly opposite the Houses of Parliament. The banner was impressively long and read ‘No More Benefit Deaths #DPAC’, calling for the need for human rights for all disabled people and an end to the disastrous sanctions regime which has led to many deaths.

I’m not a great fan of banner drops, though they do sometimes catch the headlines, though mostly when they are actually on iconic buildings rather than on the river wall. Generally they don’t make for interesting photographs, though perhaps their simplicity appeals to newspaper editors.

I began photographing the banner being got ready on the embankment opposite Parliament, then rushed along and up the steps on to Westminster Bridge. At first I joined the DPAC activists who were watching from the bridge – as you can see at Giant Banner ‘No More Benefit Deaths where the wide-angle views give a better impression of what the banner really looked like, then rushed further on across the bridge to take pictures from something closer to the view the MPs and guests would have got.

Or at least what they would have got had they come with binoculars, as to really see the banner well and almost fill the frame horizontally needed the 200mm end of my 28-200mm in DX mode – 300mm equiv.

The second problem for photographers is aspect ratio. The banner is roughly ten times as long as it it tall, and so a picture with an aspect ratio of around 1.5:1 includes rather a lot more. Of course you need more to situate and give context, but in this case that wasn’t particularly interesting subject matter.

From the bridge the I moved on to Downing St, where a rally with speeches had begun earlier and provided opportunities more to my liking, of the speakers and the audience. I’d covered the banner drop at the request of the event organisers, but this was more to my liking.

At the end of the rally there was a funeral procession down towards Parliament, which, rather surprisingly for DPAC stayed on the pavement on its way down Whitehall and Parliament St, watched by a rather large contingent of police.

But on reaching Bridge St, the procession took to the road and despite police objections made its way on to Westminster Bridge and blocked it to traffic.

The police began to get frustrated and to take it out on all of us who were present and not obviously disabled. Arresting people in wheelchairs is difficult – it looks bad in the pictures and they also need to bring in specialised transport.

I was threatened with arrest for obstruction of the highway several times for standing on the road to take pictures – on a section of road that was completely blocked by lines of police at both ends of the protest. I showed my press card and was told to “get off the effing road or you are under arrest!” I moved a few yards down the road to where the police were at least politer and kept taking pictures.

Two carers who refused to move away from the disabled people they were caring for were arrested and taken away – even though at least one of them was standing on the pavement next to the wheelchair which was on the road.

Finally, after most of the protesters had been forced off the road, Paul Peters of DPAC decided it was time to call an end to the action, an hour after they had begun to block the bridge.

Actions like this create some publicity for a cause which our national media have been extremely reluctant to take up, while more polite protest, even involving many thousands of people, goes unnoticed and unreported. It is through protests like this, and the discussions they prompt on-line and in the mass media that people more generally begin to realise the real effects of government cuts on the disabled.

When the Tories came to power in the coalition government in 201, Iain Duncan Smith at the Dept of Work & Pensions thought the disabled were a soft target for swingeing cuts – even though he and his department must have known that this would result in terrible hardship and deaths.

Giant Banner ‘No More Benefit Deaths
‘No More Benefit Deaths’ rally
DPAC block bridge over benefit deaths


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