Grassroots groups of disabled people have promised to continue the fight against austerity, and to launch a new campaign to secure justice for those who have died as a result of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) failings.
But they have also stressed the need to support those left distressed and fearful of the impact on their lives of another five years of Conservative rule.
The groups were responding to questions from Disability News Service about the future direction of the disabled people’s movement, following last week’s election result.
Denise McKenna, co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), said there were plans for a new campaign to secure justice for those who have died at the hands of DWP.
She said: “I think that will be a campaign that will make its way into mainstream media, even though we are still in the midst of the hostile environment. I call it persecution.”
Earlier this month, Disability News Service published a 12,000-word article that built an argument for a criminal investigation into former ministers and senior civil servants, whose decisions to ignore fatal flaws in the work capability assessment system led to the deaths of disabled benefit claimants.
McKenna said there were also plans to relaunch the campaigning mental health survivor organisation Mad Pride, which would work to “build up the Mad community again” and challenge the lie that people with mental health problems are worthless and have no value.
She said disabled people needed to set up their own co-operatives and support networks, which she hopes will include those with professional expertise who can offer practical advice and help to rebuild a “really strong community”.
Paula Peters, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said DPAC had been at the forefront of the resistance against austerity since 2010 and would “take the fight” to Boris Johnson.
She said: “For the past nine years we have fought back against the brutal austerity agenda that subsequent coalition and Tory governments have implemented against disabled people.
“It’s important to stress that the UK government is guilty of grave and systemic human rights violations towards disabled people and that the cuts have been a human catastrophe on disabled people’s lives.
“We need to continue to hammer that home in our communities.
“We remember with deep sadness every disabled person who has died as a result of austerity due to social care cuts, mental health funding cuts, the heinous process of employment and support allowance, personal independence payment, benefit sanctions and universal credit.”
She added: “Boris Johnson and his Tory government can expect us to continue the resistance against them. We will be visible on the streets fighting back.
“it is really important that DPAC remains a ray of hope in this dark political time. That we regroup after this horrendous general election result and come together to continue to fight.
“We must build our campaigns in our communities, support one another, give vital assistance to disabled people to fight for the support they need.”
Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said disabled people would “just have to try and keep going and support each other, in informal as well as formal ways”.
He said: “I think that this government will rebadge its policies to give the appearance of austerity being a thing of the past.
“Meanwhile, negative redistribution, poverty and powerlessness will rise. We must develop strategies to respond to and challenge this hidden agenda.”
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said: “As a movement, we need to stand firm on our values and principles and continue to speak truth to power.
“We have done so much to raise understanding about the impact of discrimination and austerity on our communities and we must continue to do so: gathering evidence, speaking up and holding the government to account on its commitments to invest in public services, solve the social care crisis and work to win the trust of new voters.
“We must also continue our proud track record of developing positive and innovative solutions to the issues that affect us, like the now widely-supported national independent living service, and we must continue to self-organise at a local level, creating inclusive and safe spaces for our communities to share support and maintain strength and resilience.”
Disabled activist Dennis Queen said there was a need to fight the re-institutionalisation of disabled people.
She called for activists to “bring their campaigning efforts back from large, well-resourced political parties and into community organising”.
And she said there was a need to strengthen disabled people’s organisations, grow a peer advocacy network “so that more of us can support each other to speak up for ourselves and fight back”, and continue to “learn and make connections with other grassroots movements and campaigns who are dealing with the same or related issues”.
Mark Williams, from Bristol Reclaiming Independent Living (BRIL), said: “We need to support all disabled people who feel down at the moment by letting them know the movement is there for them. We survived Margaret Thatcher and we have to come back fighting.”
Mike Steel, also from BRIL, said many people were “justifiably worried about what is to come, after 10 years of austerity, cuts to services and the impact of ‘welfare reform’ on the Deaf community, disabled adults and children, lone parents, people in precarious work, migrants and people using/surviving the mental health system”.
But he said that, despite this despair, there was “cause for hope”.
He said: “There is a strong sense of people wanting to come together, to work across communities and to continue to support each other.”
He said disabled people should get involved in their local disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), and community and peer-led groups.
Carole Ford, from WOWcampaign, said she believed disabled anti-cuts activists should choose a single issue – universal credit – to focus on.
She said: “Universal credit affects the greatest number of people. We should show its deficiencies, leading to reliance on food banks and hidden cuts.
“The five-week wait results in debt, homelessness as well as use of foodbanks – all measurable social ills, not mitigated by advanced repayments.
“It is unlikely that the government will scrap it, but we should campaign to mitigate its effects.”
Mel Close, chief executive of Disability Equality North West, said: “I really hope we can get the government to listen to disabled people and DPOs and that they hear the case studies, real life stories of what’s happening on the ground and look at where and how it’s going wrong – which it is for many people.”
Sue Bott, head of policy and research at Disability Rights UK, said: “With disabled people making up one-fifth of the population, clearly some of them, for whatever reason, voted for the government of the day.
“The Conservatives made some limited pledges in their manifesto, including working to deal with the social care crisis through a cross-party approach, halving the disability employment gap and ending the need for repeat assessments for benefits.
“We will be holding them to these commitments and arguing for them to go much further to secure our rights.”
Simone Aspis, policy and campaigns coordinator for The Alliance for Inclusive Education, said she believed the cuts that were driving the attack on disabled people’s rights were “ideological” and “malicious”, with cuts to support for inclusive education but more money for segregated schools, and cuts to social care budgets but investment in institutional care settings.
She said: “It’s about taking resources out of oppressive and damaging, segregated services and moving it into resourcing fantastic infrastructural support systems for disabled people that includes the provision of inclusive education provision.
“The government talks about being a One Nation and a People’s Government.
“It can only be that if there is a big shift towards the development of an infrastructural support system that supports our right to independent living, including inclusive education, whilst having a deadline (just like Brexit) to get us out of institutionalised and segregated settings, and which is co-produced.”
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