Thousands hear call to free disabled people ‘imprisoned in their homes by austerity’


Disabled people have explained why they joined thousands of other activists on a march through the streets of Birmingham to protest about the failure of Tory austerity policies.

The march took place as the Conservatives held their annual conference in the city, almost six years to the day since huge anti-austerity protests greeted the party when it held a conference just months after winning power in 2010.

Among speakers at a rally at the end of the march was Bob Williams-Findlay, one of the founders of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), which was formed after that 2010 march.

He welcomed protesters on Sunday to “the birthplace of DPAC” and described how the grassroots organisation had “grown in strength and in numbers” since 2010.

He said: “We have taken the fight to the very heart of government… and we are still here.”

Williams-Findlay described the impact on disabled people who lose their Motability vehicles after being assessed for their eligibility for the government’s new personal independence payment (PIP).

He said having a Motability vehicle “gives you freedom to work, shop and have a life.

“Then one day you get a letter saying you are going to be reassessed for PIP – the new god that cures us – and suddenly the whole world is turned upside down because PIP is designed to fail us.

“It’s designed to reduce the number of disabled people on benefits.”

He told the rally that the government was no better than the Nazi government of the 1930s in Germany and while “they have not killed thousands yet… they have killed, let’s not forget it”.

Williams-Findlay said that disabled people who fail their PIP assessment can be “trapped in your home, you might lose your job, you might not be able to take the family out, you might not be able to have a social life”.

He added: “Comrades, in my opinion up and down the country there are political prisoners, disabled people trapped in their homes like political prisoners. We have to unite to set them free.”

The mass demonstration was organised by the TUC and the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, which was launched in 2013 to provide a national forum for anti-austerity views.

Other disabled people who attended the march told Disability News Service their reasons for taking part.

Rob Davy-Cripwell, from Birmingham, said it was his first protest.

He said the government’s austerity cuts had left him and others feeling isolated, so the protest had allowed him to speak to other people who shared his views.

Although he had been “quite lucky” himself, he knew other disabled people who had been affected by PIP assessments and cuts to tax credits.

He said: “I have not been affected directly but I don’t think that matters because we are all in it together. A cut to one disabled person is a cut to all of us.”

He said he hoped the protest showed the Tory conference “that the decisions they make affect a lot of people.

“I really just hope there is some compassion in there somewhere and they really think about their decisions, because it affects everybody, not just the richest one per cent.”

Erika Garratt, from Swindon, brought her family to the march.

She claims employment and support allowance and says she feels “very vulnerable” because of the stress of waiting to be reassessed.

She said: “I am really concerned about the cuts they are making.

“They seem to want to demonise people on benefits. It’s not my fault I am ill and it’s not my children’s fault that I am ill, and yet they are suffering.”

She said she believed the Conservative party “don’t care about people who are ill or disabled”.

She added: “It’s about time that they showed that they cared about all the people in the country and not just the top few per cent, because we are going to end up in the workhouse.

“I feel we are almost going down to the Victorian era, with families on the street.

“This is all about raising awareness that we need people to come out in force. We have a voice and we deserve to be listened to.”

Emma Atkins, a student from Birmingham, said the Tories were “killing people like me in the thousands”.

She said: “The cuts are hurting us more disproportionately than anybody else. It’s time they went.”

She said she was “angry” about the Conservatives holding their conference in her home town, and added: “I hope they will get the message about how many angry people there are in the country and how badly they are treating everyone.”

Paula Bonarius, from Milton Keynes, said she was at the march because she supported re-elected Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

She said: “He’s got our values. We believe socialism is needed in this country.

“It’s not only myself, there is a load of disabled people and elderly people who are being left out.

“As soon as there are cuts it is going to be disabled people and [so-called] ‘scroungers’ [who are targeted].”

Mark Lynes (pictured), from Edgbaston, another Corbyn supporter, said he was “fighting to stop the elimination of disabled people from society”.

He said the protest would “show that there is an alternative vision for society”.

He said: “Whatever happens to Jeremy Corbyn, there will always be alternative movements.

“Also I hope disabled people are able to get back their independence, which they have lost over the last few years.”

  • User Ratings (5 Votes)
  • PageMonster

    Good to see my old comrade Bob still kicking ’em where they deserve it.

  • TM

    I wish I could have been there but since I lost my mobility allowance as part of moving from DLA to PIP my world has shrunk ever smaller and now consists pretty much of my four walls and the garden I’m fortunate enough to have.