Disabled people to march in London against cuts to benefits and services
Organisers of Hardest Hit march expect between 5,000 and 10,000 people to attend largest event of its kind for decades
Thousands of disabled people will demonstrate in Westminster on Wednesday against cuts to benefits and services, in an event that organisers hope will be the largest of its kind for decades.
The Hardest Hit march is expected to bring between 5,000-10,000 people to London to voice their anger at the combined effects of changes to welfare eligibility, cuts to disability living allowance (DLA), and local authority reductions in funding for carers and services.
Jaspal Dhani, chief executive of the United Kingdom Disabled People’s Council – one of the coordinators of the protest– said cuts meant disabled people feared losing rights that they had fought for decades to acquire.
“Disabled people feel they are being attacked and marginalised by the government,” he said. “We’ve expressed our concerns about the impact the spending review is likely to have on the lives of disabled people, but we feel the government has not taken this on board.”
Marchers will be addressed by Liam Byrne, the shadow work and pensions secretary. Maria Miller, minister for disabled people, declined an invitation to attend, Dhani said, on the grounds that she needed to be at prime minister’s questions.
Despite the strength of unease, organisers said the scale of the protest would be constrained by the difficulties many people with disabilities face in travelling and participating in a march of this sort, and pointed out that a parallel campaign has been organised online for those unable to attend. Online protesters will be able to message their MPs and upload messages of support or videos setting out why they depend on disability benefits.
“I will not be going on the march, because like thousands of other people in the UK I have ME. A trip to the local shop costs me two days in bed with severe pain, so a march in London is unthinkable,” Amble Skuse, from Devon, wrote in an email.
For those on benefits, the cost of attending a march in London was also a strong disincentive, according to Neil Coyle, director of policy at the Disability Benefits Consortium, which is also an organiser of the demonstration.
“One third of working age disabled people live in poverty, but that figure doesn’t account for the higher cost of living they face, so they have a far lower disposable income than most people in England.
“If you are on employment and support allowance, the highest level is around £12.50 a day, which means a train ticket to London (bearing in mind that buses and coaches are still not accessible for wheelchair users) is likely to be unaffordable,” Coyle said. “And for people with arthritis or a heart condition, for example, a rally is not necessarily going to be the most appropriate way to campaign. There are a lot of reasons why it could be difficult for people to attend a physical rally like this, which is why the online campaign is so important.”
Protesters making arrangements to attend have come up against the everyday accessibility obstacles facing people with disabilities when they travel. One group travelling from a Leonard Cheshire care home north of Cambridge has been forced to stagger the journey times, after it emerged that the train service could only accommodate two wheelchair users on each train.
After the demonstration, many protesters will meet their MPs to explain what the impact of changes to disability benefits and local authority cuts to services has been.
Richard Wickerson, chief executive of Mind in Stockport, will be travelling with a dozen protesters by minibus to register their anger at funding cuts which have forced them to reduce the services they can provide. “We have had to create a waiting list, which is a bit ridiculous when we’re meant to be providing a crisis service,” he said.
Shane Roberts, 23, will be travelling from Leicester to participate in a march for the first time. “I want the government to understand how important it is not to cut services and benefits for disabled people, and in particular deafblind people like me. I need specialised communications support which enables me to live independently – go shopping, reading the post, and book doctors appointments over the phone. I currently only get seven hours of this support a week, which is just enough for me to do the bare minimum.
“The government needs to understand that if they cut benefits and support for disabled people a lot of us won’t be able to get by,” he said.
A report published this week by the thinktank Demos, and the disability charity Scope, the Disability in Austerity study, showed that rather than being protected from the cuts, disabled families across the country faced dramatic reductions in their household incomes, as a result of changes in the way benefits are uprated in line with inflation, and reforms of the way claimants are assessed for incapacity benefit and DLA.
Disabled people were quickly identified as likely to be among those hardest hit by the coalition’s reforms, the report states, because this group is at “substantially greater risk of living in poverty than non-disabled people, [and] disproportionately more reliant on welfare benefits than other low income groups”.
“We estimated that disabled people would lose £9bn in welfare support overall in the next five years,” the paper said. “We questioned whether the government had intended the budgetary axe to fall so heavily on this group and whether by attempting to ‘incentivise work’ for the majority, they had overlooked the disproportionate effect welfare cuts would have on those who were less able to join the labour market.”