Union delegates say the government’s decision to reverse planned cuts to its new disability benefit could be a turning-point in the fightback against its repeated attacks on disabled people.
The TUC Disabled Workers Conference in London voted in favour of an emergency motion which welcomed the government’s decision to “backtrack” on the proposed cuts to personal independence payment (PIP).
The cuts were originally announced in the budget in March by chancellor George Osborne, but were abandoned just days later after the resignation of work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
Janine Booth, co-chair of the TUC disabled workers committee and an RMT delegate, who proposed the motion, told fellow delegates: “This is our victory and it can become a turning point.”
She said disabled people had been “on the back foot” for too long, as “millions and millions of people… believed that most people who claimed to be disabled were not and all those who were deserved pity and not resources”.
She said: “Disabled people became more frequently abused in public.
“The Tories were confident that no matter how inhumane, they would get away with it because disabled people were too weak to fight back. Now that plan is falling apart.”
Booth contrasted the present mood with the “pit of despair” that activists had been in during last year’s conference, as a result of the government U-turn and a new Labour leadership that supports their campaigning efforts.
Roger Lewis, a delegate from Lambeth Trades Council and a member of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), warned that the government would make further cuts to disability benefits “if it is allowed to get away with it”.
He said: “This motion is extremely important to make sure this conference lends its voice to the call to keep up the fightback.
“We need the whole of the trade union movement to get behind it, a united response from the trade union movement on a scale we have not seen in the last few years.”
The motion was passed unanimously, with the conference agreeing to “step up campaigning” to reverse the “numerous cuts and attacks on disabled people”, through lobbying, demonstrations and direct action.
During the first day of the two-day conference, disabled delegates joined DPAC activists for a direct action (pictured) – calling for “no more deaths from benefit cuts” – which blocked the junction of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street and brought traffic in part of London’s West End to a standstill.
Meanwhile, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) distributed copies of its new guide to reporting poverty to delegates at the conference.
The guide – put together by Rachel Broady, equality officer of the union’s Manchester and Salford branch, and the charity Church Action on Poverty – is based on the experiences of people relying on benefits and living in poverty, as well as guidelines drawn up for NUJ by Broady.
The guidelines stress that the “development of discriminatory language and the demonisation of the working poor and benefit recipients, through the use of stereotypes and misinformation, is an insult to workers, trade union organisations and readers”.
And they state that newspapers and magazines “should not originate material which encourages discrimination on grounds of being working poor or a benefit recipient”, while editors should “ensure that coverage of social security stories should be placed in a balanced context”.
The conference was attended by 25 unions, from major organisations such as Unison, Unite and NUT, to smaller unions such as Equity, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and the senior civil servants’ union the FDA, with nearly 200 disabled delegates attending.