Scores of disabled activists have come together to plan the next stage of the fight against the government’s cuts to disability benefits and services.
Members of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) heard from activists, politicians and celebrities and discussed their campaigning priorities.
DPAC was formed after its co-founders organised the first disabled people’s protest as part of the mainstream march against the cuts at last year’s Conservative party conference in Birmingham.
John McArdle, co-founder of the campaign group Black Triangle, told DPAC’s first annual general meeting in north London that he believed disabled anti-cuts activists “finally seem to be turning the corner”.
He said: “The message is getting out to people. I think there is going to be a public backlash against the government for victimising us and oppressing us.”
Actor and broadcaster Mik Scarlet said he was saddened that his industry had done more than any other to create stereotypes of “tragic” disabled people, “brave, courageous super-crips” and “scrounging” benefits claimants.
He called for campaigners to bring the stories of “real people who have had their lives ruined through the cuts” to the attention of the media, even though it will “stick in our throats to play to the stereotypes”.
He said: “We need to use the media’s inherent ignorance and prejudice to our advantage. If we can get the real truth about the impact of the cuts out to the public, I think we can change public opinion in our favour.”
Labour MP John McDonnell said that of the three groups suffering most from the government’s cuts – disabled people, people with “insecure nationality status”, and families with children – disabled people had been hit “by far the hardest”.
He said he was meeting people at his constituency surgery every week who were “in absolute desperate straits”, with food parcels being distributed in his constituency for the first time in at least 40 years.
He pointed to disabled people “who have had benefits for years and have gone through the Atos system [which tests people for their ‘fitness for work’] and have lost all their benefits”.
He added: “In the last year… you could sit down after my surgery and weep. I am at a stage now where you think my staff might need counselling.”
McDonnell said the coalition was behaving in a “ruthless” fashion, although he was “ashamed” that the Labour government “laid the road which this government is walking down”.
He also attacked the hostile language being used about disabled, poor and unemployed people.
He said: “It is being used in the House of Commons by individual MPs and ministers, which is an absolute disgrace.”
Olcay Lee, a member of North Hertfordshire People First, told the meeting: “As a disabled person, it is not right that people are taking our money away.
“As you’re disabled, they think you can go to work. Some people can’t. So what is going to happen to people who can’t go to work?”
DPAC used the agm to set up a new, 10-strong steering group of disabled activists: Linda Burnip, Stephen Lee Hodgkins, Richard Rieser, Rob Murthwaite, Roger Lewis, Sarah Mingay, Thomas Butler, Andy Greene, Patrick Lynch and Ellen Clifford.
1 November 2011