Activists have taken to the streets of the prime minister’s constituency to highlight the impact of Tory austerity cuts on disabled people over the last seven years.
The protest by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) in the centre of Maidenhead, Berkshire, saw about 30 disabled activists and their allies march from Maidenhead rail station to the town’s high street.
The concerns of campaigners who took part reflected those that have been raised by disabled people across the country, with protesters speaking of losing support as a result of the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), of how friends had lost their Motability vehicles after a person independence payment (PIP) assessment, and how they had been subjected to disability hate crime in their own local high street.
Dave Jurgensen (pictured) told Disability News Service (DNS) that the ILF closure had led to his care charges increasing by 400 per cent, meaning he now had to pay an extra £250 a month.
He is also forced to reply on neighbours to provide him with the support he needs at weekends, and can no longer afford to visit the gym.
He said: “I came because it’s time for the Tories to leave.
“Every year they keep on making promises for a better Britain… but the country gets worse, and a lot more people are going to suffer [if they get in again].”
Kirstie Grice, who lives a couple of streets from Theresa May, her MP, said that two of her friends with MS had already lost their Motability vehicles while another two were awaiting appeals, having lost their eligibility for the enhanced mobility component of PIP.
All four, she said, were “quite severely immobile”.
She said: “The things I am hearing worry me a lot. Some of my friends have quite highly progressive MS and have no form of transport around them in terms of buses and they have had their Motability cars taken away.”
She said: “I think it is important that people can see disabled people on the streets, because we are a hidden group. We don’t have a voice.”
She added: “Even some of my friends don’t know what has been happening.
“They don’t believe what has been going on, they don’t think a government would do that to disabled people.”
She said her message to disabled voters was: “Please don’t vote Tory. Vote tactically, but don’t vote Tory.”
Merry Cross, who lives in nearby Reading and helped organise the protest, told DNS: “People are terrified of another five years of the Tories. I am absolutely at the end of my tether about it.
“Everybody I know who is disabled is so distressed, so upset, and is getting poorer and poorer.
“What I know is that they keep on finding more and more ways of failing people who have gone for their benefits assessments.”
She added: “The number who have already died is terrifying, the number who are suicidal just keeps increasing.
“If you ask anyone here how many times they have talked someone down who was going to [kill themselves] it is a very high number.”
Another local disabled activist, William Taggart, said: “The main thing about being here is to try and emphasise in Theresa May’s own constituency to people just how severely the cuts are affecting disabled people.”
He said that he and his friends were “terrified of getting that brown envelope [from the Department for Work and Pensions] through the letterbox.
“I grew up through a time when things were changing for disabled people, when things were moving forwards.
“In seven years, I have seen nearly all of that disappear.”
He said he was frequently called a “scrounger” when walking through the streets of nearby Woking.
Martin Tolley travelled from Suffolk to take part in Saturday’s protest, because he wanted “to let the people of Theresa May’s constituency know what she and her Tory party are really like and what they have done to disabled people since 2010”.
He said he believed that another five years of a Tory government would mean “more death, more poverty”.
Paula Peters, from DPAC, said it was “important to show the people of Maidenhead why disabled people are really angry at Theresa May after seven years of brutal Tory austerity” and that disabled people had “borne the brunt of the cuts”.
She said she was “very disappointed” that there had not been more disabled people at the protest, and she said the mood of the march had been “reflective” when it needed to be “really, really angry”.
She said: “I think people are frightened of what is to come but also exhausted at fighting the years of Tory austerity.”
She added: “Disabled people have been hammered time and again by the cuts.
“We are angry, we have had enough, but we are also terrified of another five years of a Tory government.”
She said: “We have seen our rights eroded. Everything we have fought for has just been taken away. If we don’t get Theresa May out on 8 June, heaven help us.”
She said her message was simple: “Vote Theresa May out. Get her out.”
Sean McGovern, co-chair of the TUC’s disabled workers’ committee, said it was important for disabled people to have “as big a visible presence as possible”, but that many had been “ground down” by the years of austerity.
He said: “It is seven years and people have done this 100 times. There is an element of where do we go and where is it getting us.”
He called on disabled people to use their vote on 8 June.
He said: “Another five years of Tory misrule will see a lot of people lying in an early grave.
“The last seven years have seen us lose our services and our benefits.
“Social care packages are being slashed, causing misery to thousands and thousands of disabled people who are becoming socially isolated and excluded.”