Disabled activists who have again brought central London traffic to a standstill have called for a general strike to highlight anger at government cuts to disability benefits and services.
Members of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) blocked off the junction of Park Lane with the key Marble Arch roundabout at the corner of Hyde Park by chaining their wheelchairs together, with the support of the mainstream anti-cuts group UK Uncut.
The 90-minute protest caused serious traffic hold-ups around Hyde Park, where the TUC was holding its own anti-austerity rally.
DPAC members had earlier taken part in the TUC march to Hyde Park, before moving off towards Marble Arch.
Many of the protesters spoke of their anger with Atos Healthcare, the company that carries out “fitness for work” tests for the government and has also won contracts to carry out the new assessments for the replacement for disability living allowance (DLA).
Andy Greene, a member of DPAC’s steering group, said they were there to back calls by many trades union activists for a general strike, which would also “support disabled people in their resistance against these austerity cuts”.
Another protester, Mary-Ellen, a former nurse, said: “I am appalled to see how our country is treating sick and disabled people.”
She was one of several protesters who said people were “dying in poverty” as a result of Atos finding them unfairly fit for work, and added: “This country is dismantling the NHS, the welfare system and the pension system.”
Patrick Lynch, another member of the DPAC steering group, said: “I am here for justice for disabled people. It is important to me because I want to stand up for my rights as a disabled person.”
He is one of thousands of disabled people who have been found fit for work by Atos, and been forced to appeal, before finally being placed in the support group, for those disabled people with the highest support needs who are not expected to carry out any work-related activity.
Protester Josie Reid said: “Disabled people are living at the sharp end of the cuts. We have to draw attention to what is happening to us and it is not being reported on the news.”
She was another to highlight the impact of the work capability assessment and how the “harrowing process” was “finding many people fit for work who are very seriously ill”.
She described how her doctor wouldn’t allow her to attend her WCA because she was too ill, but that Atos kept “harassing” her, phoning her and sending her letters, despite her GP’s plea for them to “leave her alone”.
Her benefits were eventually stopped, which left her suicidal. She said she was “very close” to killing herself when she heard that she had been reassessed and placed in the support group.
She said: “It just feels like the government are trying to kill you all the time. If I didn’t have a supportive partner I would not be here. Doing this sort of action is keeping me alive.”
Kirsten Hearn, one of the capital’s leading disabled activists, also joined the protest.
She said: “I am here because we just can’t go on like this. We have people dying left, right and centre. Nobody is listening to us.”
She pointed to what she called “this incredible attitude of disability envy” among people who were jealous of disabled people’s DLA, their blue badges, and “the benefits some of us get to actually live… the things that make our lives possible”, without realising that “it costs more to be a disabled person”.
She said it was an “outrage” that there were disabled people who could not afford to eat, when big businesses were not paying their taxes.
Greene warned the government, including David Cameron, Iain Duncan Smith and George Osborne, that “we are not going away… we are not going to back down.”
And he sent a message to those disabled people affected by the cuts: “To the hundreds and thousands and millions of disabled people round this country: we have not forgotten you, we have not written you off.”
22 October 2012