Disabled activists who took part in a major protest over the welfare reform bill have warned the government that they are planning further high-profile direct action.
The protest was organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN), and the mainstream anti-cuts movement UK Uncut.
Their aim was to “shame” the government into withdrawing the welfare reform bill and highlight its impact on disabled people.
Many of the activists who took part accepted that it was too late to halt the bill, which is set to clear its final parliamentary hurdles within days, but they pledged that further direct action would follow, even when the bill becomes law.
About 20 wheelchair-users locked themselves onto a chain across Regent Street at noon on Saturday, and were then joined by scores of other disabled campaigners and activists from UK Uncut.
The protest caused major hold-ups in London’s shopping heartland, and completely blocked Regent Street north of the Oxford Circus crossroads for more than two hours.
Linda Burnip, a member of DPAC’s steering group, promised further direct action, even if the welfare reform bill was passed.
She said: “Even if it is passed, we are not giving up. This is just the start.”
She praised the involvement of UK Uncut and said she hoped the success of the protest would encourage other disabled people to take part in the next action.
Claire Glasman, from the disabled women’s organisation WinVisible, also said protests would continue if the bill became law.
She said: “If it gets passed, we are not going to stop. The implementation [of the bill]is going to be another battle.”
DAN activist John Smith said the protest was “about disabled people getting angry again, like in the 1990s, and that is a good thing”.
He also said there should be further protests. “There has to be. It’s not going to go away.”
Adam Lotun, one of the wheelchair-users who was chained across Regent Street, said: “It got to the point where direct action had to be taken. Nobody wanted to listen.
“They are now hearing from us. I am prepared to do more. After today… more people are now going, ‘If they can do it, we can do it.’”
DPAC activist Ellen Clifford said the protest would raise public awareness of the bill’s impact on disabled people, but would also increase the confidence of the disabled people’s movement that direct action was possible, after 10 years in which it had become “deradicalised”.
Several activists were also encouraged by the police response to the protest, which saw no arrests.
Inspector Mark Luton, of the Metropolitan police, said the aim had been to keep policing “fairly low-key” and to “try to establish some sort of dialogue” with protesters, while keeping the protest contained “in as small an area as possible”.
At a police briefing before the action, officers were told to “deal with things proportionately”, although all they had known was that some protesters would be meeting at Holborn tube station, about a mile from Oxford Circus.
He said: “We always knew it was going to be a fairly friendly kind of demo.”
1 February 2012