Disabled people are facing “unprecedented attacks” because of the government’s “austerity” measures, union activists have heard at their annual conference.
The TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference heard from a string of delegates and other speakers who described the impact of government cuts on disabled people.
The theme of the conference was “Disabled Workers Resisting Austerity”, while Sean McGovern, co-chair of the TUC’s disabled workers’ committee, promised that “resisting the government’s austerity programme” would be at the centre of its work for the next year.
Tracey Blunn, a delegate from the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW), said it was becoming “increasingly difficult for disabled members to have their disabilities taken seriously”.
She said: “Members with depression are being told, ‘Everyone is struggling, stop being selfish,’” while others were being told it was “all in their heads”.
Blunn said that employers were more willing to push disabled members through disciplinary procedures and less willing to make reasonable adjustments.
Brendan Barber, the TUC’s general secretary, said that no group had been more affected by the government’s “savage ideological austerity” than disabled workers.
He said there was a “fundamental dishonesty” about the government’s disability policies, with the coalition “keen to promote the language of fairness” while cutting benefits that were “a lifeline to so many disabled people”.
He said: “Let us be clear: what is going on is a moral outrage which should have no place in a civilised society.”
Barber called for unions to continue to work with disabled people’s campaigning coalitions like the Hardest Hit and Disabled People Against Cuts.
The disabled peer Lord [Colin] Low told the conference that the government threatening disabled people with the loss of incapacity benefits when there were no jobs for them was “plain sadistic”.
Mandy Hudson, from the National Union of Teachers, spoke of the “unprecedented attacks on disabled people”, and added: “It’s hard for disabled people to get work, it’s hard for disabled people to keep their jobs, and when they are out of work they are just considered to be scroungers.”
The Labour MP John McDonnell told the conference that people were facing “abject poverty, insecurity and feel harassed”, with some of the “worst suffering” experienced by people with mental health conditions.
He said he was hearing from disabled constituents who had been “absolutely humiliated” by their treatment at the hands of healthcare professionals employed by Atos Healthcare, which conducts “fitness for work” tests for the government.
He said: “Some of these doctors are social criminals for what they are doing to our people.”
31 May 2012