Thousands of disabled people have taken part in a march to call on the government to halt its programme of cuts to disability benefits and services and its attacks on equality and disability rights.
The Hardest Hit march, which started with a rally on Victoria Embankment by the Thames before protesters set off on a route that passed the Houses of Parliament was described as the country’s largest-ever gathering of disabled people.
Organisers say they believe that between 10,000 and 12,000 people took part in the march.
Many were angry at proposed cuts of 20 per cent to spending on disability living allowance (DLA), others at the programme to reassess incapacity benefit claimants through the hated work capability assessment.
Some were marching because of local authority cuts to care and support services, or the government’s attacks on equality legislation or inclusive education.
Many of those who took part in the protest had never been on a march or rally before in their lives.
Susan Hall travelled to the march by scooter from her home in Highbury, north London.
She said: “If they take away my DLA, I lose this [her scooter]. It pays for my scooter. Take away my DLA and I am housebound. I am terrified of that.”
Andrew Waite, from Woking, said he was particularly concerned about government reforms to DLA and a proposed new assessment process.
He said: “I don’t believe they can possibly save money by doing more paperwork and more bureaucracy.”
And he said that taking away the mobility component of DLA from disabled people in residential care would change their homes into prisons.
He said: “You may as well put these people in prison because you take away all their outward mobility.”
Wendy Aherne, a student at Hereward College in Coventry, a specialist residential college, said it was the first protest she had taken part in.
She was particularly concerned about the mobility component plans, and added: “I would not be able to go to college without the mobility component.”
Her fellow student Stuart Hatton said: “My motivation for being here is I don’t want to be the person who sits in the background and lets this happen. I want to let the government know we are not letting them get away with this.”
Paul Stevenson, from Scotland, who has Tourette’s, said he was worried that the government’s reforms would strip away the support he needs to leave his home. He said: “Without it, I wouldn’t go out.”
Richard West, a leading disabled activist, from Westminster, said he was worried about the lack of support already available under the Fair Access to Care system introduced by the Labour government.
He said the cuts were “very unfair” and meant a “very uncertain future”, and added: “You only get help in an extreme emergency or you get nothing at all. Three hours of support isn’t good at all and because of the cuts, thousands of disabled people will be affected.”
Another prominent disabled activist, Simone Aspis, said what made her most angry was that there seemed to be “a turning back to the days when it was thought support should be a charitable activity, not a right to participate on a level playing-field with non-disabled people”.
She said: “It is this ideology that got me up this morning and got me here; going back to the days – if we don’t watch ourselves – when support was given by the big charities, with big group homes and residential homes and asylums. That is what got me out of bed this morning.”
12 May 2011