Activists are hoping that a national disabled people’s “summit” will bring disabled people, their organisations and unions together to fight back against the repeated attacks on their right to independent living.
Plans for the day-long summit were launched at a fringe meeting at the annual TUC Congress in Brighton this week.
Mandy Hudson, who represents disabled teachers on the new National Education Union, and is helping to organise the summit, said: “We are trying to bring together disabled people to organise a reassertion of our rights to independent living.”
She said the idea for the summit came after she and colleagues on the TUC’s disabled workers’ committee realised how many disabled people were having to fight individually to secure the support they needed to live independently.
She said: “I thought it was time for a more strategic view.”
The summit is due to take place on 4 November at the headquarters of the National Education Union, near Euston station in central London, with Hudson hoping it will attract both disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) and individual disabled people.
She said it was “completely ridiculous” that disabled people were being “forced to show our scars and beg” for the support they needed, and she said there was a need for a more rights-based approach.
She added: “It is not acceptable the level of human indignity one has to endure.”
She pointed to the findings of the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, which concluded last month that cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe” in the UK.
She said: “This is what it feels like. Our daily lived experience as disabled people at the moment is that it is a human catastrophe, but my view is that we will never change things by just allowing them to make it very personal, individual.
“It will only change things when we unite and assert ourselves again.”
Hudson said her own lived experience was currently “very, very raw”, with her own support package under review.
She said she was one of many disabled people who were struggling “just to maintain our independence”.
She said the summit was about trying to bring together different parts of the disabled people’s movement to work together.
She added: “We will see whether or not it is possible, but surely if it is not possible now, we’re in trouble.”
Although the National Education Union has donated the venue free of charge, the organisers are hoping for further union backing to pay for refreshments and other costs.
The summit has already secured the backing of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA).
Ellen Clifford, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, a ROFA member, who spoke at the fringe meeting, said afterwards that the alliance was “delighted” to be supporting the summit.
She said: “Over the years, while many Deaf and disabled people felt let down by charities who seemed to be cosying up to government and forgetting what the social model actually means, the trade union movement has worked closely in support of DPAC, both to help us highlight the brutal impacts of austerity and to promote disability equality.
“This summit is now an opportunity to more effectively co-ordinate the resistance between DDPOs [Deaf and disabled people’s organisations] and trade unions, taking stock following the damning verdict by the UN and planning next steps, not just in the united defence of our rights but in developing a shared vision of the kind of society we want to fight for.”
Among others who spoke at the fringe meeting were Sharon Rose and Mandy Crandale, from the Brighton-based disabled people’s organisation Possability People, who spoke about its work in supporting disabled people to secure benefits, and their Journey to Employment project, which focuses on a personalised approach to moving people into paid work at their own pace.
Geraldine Des Moulins, chief officer of Possability People, said her organisation supported the idea of a national summit.
She pointed to the findings of the UN committee, and said Possability People was dealing with this situation “on a day-to-day basis, with people coming in to us in crisis”.
She said: “It is very, very worrying and I think we do need to get together.
“People are coming to us in crisis and nobody seems to be listening.
“We agree with what the UN is saying. It is a crisis. Our disability advice service is quite overwhelmed with people coming in and asking for advice about benefits.”
And she warned that this crisis would only worsen with the government’s universal credit being rolled out in Brighton and Hove next month.
For more information about the summit, email [email protected]