Disabled people who took part in a major anti-austerity march through London have described why they wanted to make their voices heard as they protested against the government’s cuts.
More than 100,000 people – the majority of them trades union members – took part in the TUC’s A Future That Works march and rally in central London on Saturday.
Two large groups of disabled people took part in the march. One helped mark the start of a week of action by The Hardest Hit campaign, a coalition of the UK Disabled People’s Council and members of the Disability Benefits Consortium, with several hundred people taking part.
A smaller group marched under the banner of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), many of whom later took part in a protest which blocked traffic for more than two hours at Marble Arch.
Stephen Aselford, chair of Disability Croydon, said he was marching to protest at media and government attacks on disabled people, and to call for a “fairer society where people who can’t work are supported”.
He said: “It’s all very well the government saying you can all go and get a job, but when they have crushed all the public sector of jobs and are cutting grants at voluntary organisations, where are these jobs going to come from?”
Paula, a disabled activist from south London, was among the many disabled marchers who wanted to highlight the damage being done by Atos Healthcare, the company that carries out “fitness for work” assessments for the government.
She is campaigning for there to be a two-minute silence on 3 December 2012, the International Day of Disabled People, for disabled people who have lost their lives as a result of the work capability assessment (WCA) process.
She said she had lost 14 friends with mental health conditions since 2010, all of whom had been found fit for work by Atos, and all of whom had killed themselves.
Andrew Lee, director of People First Self Advocacy, was one of many disabled activists who said they were marching for disabled people who were not able to take part themselves.
He was another to raise concerns about Atos, and said: “I am concerned that there are a lot of deaths that are actually happening as a result of government policy.”
And he pointed to other government failures in supporting disabled people in work and into employment. “On the one hand they want disabled people to work, on the other hand they will not actively support those of us who are in work to stay in work.
“They are letting local authorities cut the funding of the very organisations [like People First]that help us build up the skills to consider whether we can work.”
Rob Murthwaite, a member of DPAC’s steering group, said the government was “destroying disabled people’s lives” and that its cuts and reforms to disability benefits were “an absolute disgrace”.
He said the number of disabled people taking part in the march was “an indicator to the government of how angry people are”, and he warned the government that support for DPAC was growing fast and that it was “building up a network of very angry people”.
Another marcher, Rebecca, said the government were “picking on people who are less likely to stand up and be able to be heard” and “seem to think it is fair game to hard hit because we don’t punch back”.
She said that marching against the cuts was “making a point and making what they are doing visible to those who maybe want to think it is not going on”.
Peter, who was marching with Rebecca, said the government “want people to be independent when we have got no money… It is going to cost them more [when disabled people are]put in residential care.
“I like my independence and if they cut all the benefits people will not be able to go out and do what they want to do. I just hope the government listen.”
Lisa Pickard, from Cardiff People First, said she was “angry, disappointed” and wanted the government to “stop the cuts”, while her favourite phase was now “David Cameron sucks”.
She said: “I have tried to look for a job. It’s hard. People have said we don’t take people with a learning difficulty and also people saying they don’t take people on with epilepsy.”
Rob Marsh, from DPAC’s Cardiff group, said: “I am marching against the government today. All the cuts and disability benefits cuts in particular.”
Despite being declared unfit for work four times while on incapacity benefit, he was found fit for work when assessed by Atos under the WCA. He is now surviving on the lower, jobseeker’s allowance rate while he appeals, but also fears losing his disability living allowance when it is replaced by the new personal independence payment from next year.
He said: “I am hoping the government will take note that people are not happy with the way they are doing things, and if they don’t change they have got to go.”
David Malins, who had volunteered as a legal observer at the march and was representing both DPAC and other people on the autistic spectrum, said he was marching to fight for the “safety net” provided by the DLA and incapacity benefit he currently receives.
He is currently able to live alone and independently, but would not be able to cope with shared accommodation if his benefits were cut and fears that he would then be forced to move back in with his family.
He said: “I am just so scared of what the future is going to hold now. I couldn’t live in shared accommodation.”
Olcay Lee, a member of North Hertfordshire People First, said: “If we lose our benefits, how do we live? They have to think. How do disabled people live the day-to-day life?”
She criticised the government for producing policies before they had consulted disabled people, and added: “You have got to stop and think and ask disabled people.”
22 October 2012