Disabled protesters have taken key messages to four different government departments, salve before converging on the Department for Work and Pensions to deliver a stark warning to Iain Duncan Smith.
The protests were part of Reclaiming Our Futures, there a week of action led by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC).
One block of activists took their demands for a fully-resourced, inclusive education system and an end to segregation to the Department for Education.
Outside the Department of Health, campaigners defended the NHS and called for the necessary levels of social care and support to enable choice, control, dignity and independence for disabled people.
Another group stood on the front steps of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to protest about the huge numbers of disabled people living in fuel poverty while the big energy companies make ever-increasing profits.
The final block of protesters took their fight for investment in accessible transport and an end to staff cuts to the Department for Transport.
Outside the Department of Health, Michelle Daley, a leading disability equality consultant, told Disability News Service: “We are fighting for disabled people to have a full opportunity, to be part of society, to be able to contribute and feel they are human beings.
“But services are being cut, people are not able to access basic needs, and more and more people are becoming prisoners in their own homes.
“We are going to see more and more people being isolated. People will go back into institutions.
“Too much work has been done by our previous disabled brothers and sisters for us to be going back to those dark days.”
She added: “Every day in my work I am seeing too many disabled people who just cannot have a normal lifestyle because of the cuts.”
She pointed to one man with 24-hour support needs who was about to lose his night-time support because his local council needed to save money, even though his needs had not changed.
Blogger and activist Matt Goodsell said he was at the protest outside the Department of Health because of his “anger at the ideological cuts currently killing us”.
He said he believed disabled people should “protest until an election is forced”.
Gabriel Pepper said he was outside DECC to protest at the “massive” tax avoidance of the energy companies.
He said: “This is the central reason why the welfare reform bill was pushed through, because they claw back the money from disabled people to avoid causing any pain to rich people.
“People are making decisions all the time about whether to eat or heat their houses.
“Global warming is a problem for poor people because they are the ones who will suffer the most. They are always the ones who will suffer the most.”
Dave Skull, from Mad Pride, told the DECC protest that welfare cuts and reforms such as the “bedroom tax” and the hated work capability assessments were increasing people’s depression and anxiety, and even leading to suicides.
Another disabled protester, Sam, said he was at DECC to represent his neighbours, who were older people who had “worked all their lives” and were now living on £500 a month.
He said: “I am having to feed my next-door neighbour when she runs out of money.”
Activists protesting at the Department for Education demanded a meeting with the Conservative junior education minister Lord Nash over their “very real and deep concerns about the children and families bill”.
They say that the special educational needs (SEN) provisions in the bill – due to be debated in the Lords next month – will mean that children and young people with SEN will no longer have a right to attend a mainstream school.
They also handed over an “end of term school report” for the Conservative education secretary Michael Gove on his progress in developing inclusion.
It scored his record on supporting the choice of mainstream education; making it illegal to force disabled learners into segregated education; providing disabled learners with the support they need to access mainstream education; and providing mainstream schools with the money and support they need to deliver inclusive education practice.
Tara Flood, chief executive of The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), said: “I am sad to say that on every single count, it was a fail.”
Simone Aspis, ALLFIE’s policy and campaigns coordinator, added: “We were there to make it quite clear that in 2013, disabled children and young people do not have an absolute right to access mainstream education.”
Tina Hogg said she had joined the day’s actions because she was concerned about the gradual scrapping of working-age disability living allowance (DLA) and its replacement with the new personal independence payment.
She said: “I am riddled with invisible disabilities. I know that when they do away with DLA and I am reassessed I will end up without benefits. The future frightens me.
“I am also very angry about the disappearance of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) [which is closing in 2015]and I am here to show solidarity for those who receive ILF and are losing it.”
Sean McGovern, co-chair of the TUC’s disabled workers’ committee, told protesters outside DWP’s Caxton House offices that ILF would be abolished in less than two years.
He said: “It allows us to do things that local authorities aren’t funded to do… it allows me to be active in my community, to get here today.
“Most of us will lose great chunks of support. We need a national care service, based on national criteria, not a service where postcodes determine the level of care you are given. We need a national care service that delivers care free at the point of need.”
Mark Harrison, chief executive of Equal Lives (formerly Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People), told the DWP protest that disabled people needed the Labour and trade union movement to “get off their knees and start fighting this government”.
He warned that there would be austerity whichever political party was in power, and added: “This is not a fight that can be won inside the law. It is a fight that has to be taken outside the law. We need to put human rights and civil rights before a law, whatever that is.”
Roger Lewis, a member of DPAC’s steering group, said the week of action had been “a celebration of disability pride” but had shown “not just what we are against” but also “disabled people’s hopes and aspirations”.
He said that DPAC had been “at the heart” of the fight back against the government’s austerity measures over the last three years.
Andy Greene, another member of the steering group, warned: “This isn’t the end, it’s the start of a very long fight.
“We want to enforce our message that we are here to support each other and to make sure that nobody is left alone to struggle.”
5 September 2013