Disabled activists faced down police officers who tried to prevent them protesting in front of the four-star hotel where prime minister Rishi Sunak was staying during this week’s Conservative party conference in Manchester.
Activists from Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) gathered opposite The Midland Hotel to protest at the presence of the “institutionally disablist” Conservative party in the city, and to support the new Disabled People’s Manifesto.
But shortly after they arrived on Tuesday, police officers approached the group of activists (pictured) to tell them they would have to move to an official protest site in nearby St Peter’s Square.
The official protest site was out of sight of the hotel entrance, which has acted as the hub for conference fringe events and socialising by Conservative party members during this week’s four-day event.
When the DPAC group refused to move, one police officer warned them: “We either do it nicely…”
Officers quoted powers under section 14 of the Public Order Act, and claimed the street needed to be kept clear for emergency vehicles and was “a designated no protest site”, although activists had been able to use the same street for protests both in 2019 and in 2015.
Rick Burgess, from Manchester DPAC, told Disability News Service (DNS) during the protest: “We are not in anybody’s way but we are visible to the conference. Our visibility is important.
“The Conservative party and the government it forms re-institutionalised disabled people and they are not welcome until they deal with their institutional disablism.”
He said they wanted to be opposite the hotel “to be visible with our messages and our presence so they have to look at us and go past us”.
He said the government’s latest work and pensions white paper and other cuts and reforms to the work capability assessment “are literally threats to our life. They are trying to wipe us out.”
One police officer told him: “We are here to facilitate a peaceful protest but also facilitate the conference. You’re allowed to walk through, but not allowed to protest.”
A more senior police officer eventually agreed that the DPAC activists could continue their protest opposite the hotel until 2.30pm.
Among the protesters was actor and activist Ali Briggs, who told DNS that she had wanted to be there to “stand with disabled colleagues”.
She said: “I really want to fight the whole thing about ticket office closures. It’s terrible, it’s cruel.
“They carry on ignoring us. It’s not good enough. Our rights: we won’t see them eroded by this lot.”
Another activist was Dom Hutchins, who two years ago had a high-profile party conference confrontation with senior Conservative Jacob Rees-Mogg, at the time the leader of the Commons – just yards from where they were protesting this week – when he challenged him over the government’s record on disability rights.
He told DNS this week: “Nothing has changed in two years. Disabled people are still dying because of Tory policies.
“They listened to me, but obviously it was just lip service. Disabled people are still dying because of assessments and the media are just ignoring it. I feel it’s my duty to do this.”
Another DPAC activist, Stella Thomas, from Salford, said she was concerned about the latest government “crackdown” on people who claiming disability benefits which she said would affect people both in and out of work.
She said her message to the government was: “Stop lying to us, tell us the truth: are you going to cut disability benefits?”
DPAC activist Luke Beesley told DNS: “I am here because disabled people in Britain have undergone 13 years of social murder.”
He pointed to benefit cuts, the “pathetic response to Covid, which put profits over disabled people’s lives”, and the segregation of disabled people in special schools and care homes.
He said: “As this government continues its assault on the working class, I know disabled people will continue to be in the firing line and I am here to say enough is enough.”
Fellow disabled activist Klint Durham said he was there to “express my deep concern and disappointment” at the “utter contempt” shown to disabled people by the government through its decision not to give evidence in August to the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities about its progress since being found guilty of grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s rights.
Durham said: “It sends a signal to politicians in this country and people in this country that disabled people are second-class citizens.”
He said he believed that disabled people had “not moved forwards” since the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act.
He said: “We fought for rights and we have basically been sold a pup because nothing has changed.”
JoAnn Taylor, who founded Salford DPAC, said she was protesting the “devastating” impact of Conservative austerity policies.
But she said she was also there to protest about flaws in the disabled facilities grant system, which have left her having to move home four times while waiting for her housing association to provide her with accessible housing.
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