They were there to discuss developing their own replacement for the hated work capability assessment (WCA), which tests eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits.
Organisations represented included Black Triangle, the Mental Health Resistance Network, We Are Spartacus, WOW Petition, Inclusion London, Disabled People Against Cuts, Pat’s Petition and Carer Watch, while others took part via Skype.
Other influential campaigners who attended and spoke included the disabled artist-activist Liz Crow, Atos whistleblower Dr Greg Wood and the Scottish disability rights campaigner Susan Archibald.
The summit drew together many of the groups that have been prominent in opposing the government’s cuts to disability services and benefits, and was organised by the steering group of the WOW Petition*.
A WOW spokeswoman said it was an “historic” meeting. “None of us had been all together in a room before. It was definitely the first time and we were aware of that.
“It did take a lot of organising. My hope was that we could all sit round a table and talk. There were so many different personalities, and so many people fighting with their own ill-health and conditions.
“We pulled it off. I hope we can now hatch something together and move forward.”
The summit came in the wake of last month’s meeting between the then employment minister Mark Hoban and three members of We Are Spartacus.
After Hoban had tentatively agreed to consider any constructive and sensible plan for a replacement for the WCA, some of the grassroots organisations agreed to try to work together to develop an alternative.
Hoban’s successor as employment minister, Esther McVey, had told Disability News Service – when she was still in her previous job as disabled people’s minister – that she would not rule out scrapping the WCA if there was proof that it was causing enough damage to disabled people.
Sue Marsh, who attended the Hoban meeting and the summit on behalf of We Are Spartacus, said: “It was a productive day. Everybody was there to be open-minded. The groups had never even met before. That in itself was a step forward.”
She said Spartacus would never agree with everything that some of the other groups were fighting for, but they could “decide what we agree on, and on those issues we can come together”.
John McArdle, a founding member of Black Triangle, said he was “enormously” encouraged by the meeting, which he said was the “first grassroots disability summit we have had”.
He added: “It is a very significant moment in our struggle.”
McArdle said: “We did have a focus on the employment and support allowance and the assessment regime… in the context of how are we going to fight back. I think the overwhelming feeling was that we want it scrapped.
“Every single person in that room was aware of the harm and damage that is being done every day [by the WCA].”
He said he believed it would be possible to draw up a “rigorous and safe” replacement for the WCA. “Yes, I do think so, but not overnight. We are not going to be held to a timetable.”
*WOW campaigners want to see the WCA scrapped and the government carry out a cumulative impact assessment of all of its welfare reforms and cuts on disabled people. About 74,000 people have so far signed their petition, just 26,000 short of the 100,000 needed to trigger a Commons debate, with just 41 days left until it closes.
31 October 2013