Disabled activists secured a face-to-face meeting with the new minister for disabled people, during a protest over the government’s welfare-to-work policies.
About 30 members of the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN) and allies chanted slogans and held placards calling for “real work for real pay” and “welfare not workfare” outside the Manchester offices of A4E, one of the private sector companies paid by the government to find work for disabled people.
Although the police were called after protesters entered the building where A4E has its offices, there were no arrests.
The protest on 16 June then moved on to Manchester town hall, where the new Conservative minister for disabled people, Maria Miller MP, was attending the annual independent living awards run by the disability organisation Breakthrough UK.
After protesters gained access to the town hall, the minister agreed to speak to them about their concerns around the government’s welfare-to-work agenda.
Rebecca Young, one of the organisers of the protest, who talked to the minister, said: “We told her that the jobs that are being produced are quite often meaningless, almost always at minimum wage and occasionally below – under the auspices of ‘training’.
“The whole exercise doesn’t result in a real job with a real working wage. It takes people away from activities in the community such as voluntary work and sends them off to earn next to nothing doing a job that sometimes they can’t actually do for physical or psychological reasons.
“Most people on benefits are on them because there are no suitable jobs for them to do.
“The minister kept referring to things like job placements, whereas most of us would hope to be referred to a job, not a placement.”
Young said the minister didn’t seem to understand that the reason so many disabled people were not in work was because of “systemic” problems in society around the lack of support, access, education and suitable jobs.
She added: “It’s not as simple as chasing people off to interviews or into work. The government seems to believe that we just need a bit more encouraging or training to do a job, but there is so much more to it than that.”
Young said the protest was “a massive success”, as they had the chance to talk to Miller and “look her in the eye” and explain why it was important to engage with grassroots organisations of disabled people, rather than the big disability charities.
She added: “We told her she could expect to see us again.”
17 June 2010