Activists are hoping that a new petition – backed by a campaigning disabled comedian – could finally force the government to assess the overall impact of its programme of cuts and reforms to disability benefits and services.
The WOW (war on welfare) petition – which also calls for a free vote for MPs on repealing the Welfare Reform Act – was only launched on Tuesday this week but by Thursday had already secured more than 5 000 names.
The launch on Twitter was fronted by disabled comedian Francesca Martinez, who has been prominent in speaking out against the cuts and has put her name to the petition.
The WOW petition is the latest attempt to shame the coalition into commissioning an assessment of the cumulative impact of its cuts on disabled people.
Its name and contents were “crowd-sourced” on Twitter by campaigners who wanted to continue the work of Pat’s Petition – fronted by the disabled activist Pat Onions – which secured 63,000 signatures, nearly 40,000 short of the 100,000 needed in one year to be considered for a Commons debate.
Among other demands, the WOW petition calls for an “immediate end” to the much-criticised work capability assessment – which tests eligibility for employment and support allowance (ESA), the new out-of-work disability benefit – and to the use of mandatory “workfare” schemes for some ESA claimants.
The WOW campaigners also want to see an independent inquiry into the impact of the coalition’s welfare reforms on disabled people.
Martinez told Disability News Service that she was “proud to be backing such an important cause”.
She said: “As a disabled person in the media, I want to help give this issue a voice. It’s morally wrong for the government to target those in need instead of saving money by targeting the real causes of this crisis – and close tax loopholes and regulate the financial sector. To me, it’s a human rights issue.”
Martinez said it was “a scary time”, and added: “I’ve read stories of people committing suicides because of losing their benefits and many more people will die as a result of these cuts.
“Ironically, while stating that they want to help disabled people work, the government are actually taking away their independence and making it harder for people to lead fulfilling and productive lives.
“Disabled people have much to offer society but life for many will become about basic survival – and, in one of the richest countries in the world, that is unacceptable.”
She said that, once the 100,000 milestone had been reached, there would be a campaign of lobbying and “other activities” directed at MPs and the media.
She added: “We absolutely understand the need to pressure and cajole our elected representatives and the fact that power is rarely given means it has to be taken.
“We will take the steps necessary to gain justice and restoration of our human rights which this coalition have been abusing.”
Ian Jones, one of the many disabled activists behind the petition, added: “We wanted to reinforce Pat’s message, the point that disabled people everywhere are feeling marginalised, feeling that people aren’t listening to us and feeling that it is not fair.”
Another of the activists said: “The reality is starting to hit home. If we don’t help ourselves, who will help us?”
20 December 2012