Thousands of disabled people and other campaigners took part in a series of anti-cuts protests last weekend in more than a dozen towns and cities across the UK.
The rallies and marches took place under the banner of The Hardest Hit, the campaign organised by the UK Disabled People’s Council and members of the Disability Benefits Consortium.
They want the government to stop its cuts to disability benefits and services for disabled people.
In London, more than 250 people attended a rally outside the mayor of London’s offices at City Hall, on the south bank of the Thames.
Disabled activist Dawn Willis travelled from Devon to attend the protest, she told protesters, because people with mental health conditions were dying because of the cuts.
She said some people were killing themselves, while others were giving up their claims for benefits because they couldn’t face being assessed by the private company Atos Healthcare.
Kirsten Hearn, chair of Inclusion London, said: “The cuts in public spending disproportionately affect disabled people. We must fight back. That is why we are here today.”
Another disabled activist, Ellie Southwood, said: “Today, up and down the country, thousands of disabled people are proving that we will be heard.”
She called on Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, to guarantee that no disabled person would lose their “hard-fought independence” as a result of the cuts.
After the rally, the disabled comedian and activist Liz Carr said: “I think we need to show the media and the government that there is strength in numbers, that there is a voice and it is not just an elite few on blogs and social media.”
She said the protest had brought together groups that would not normally work together to “show their anger and fear”.
She added: “I think people are genuinely terrified about what the next few months are going to hold for them.”
Disabled activist and blogger Lisa Egan said she was at the protest because if her benefits were cut she would not be able to afford to live, as she was too ill to work.
She said: “I depend on benefits. You take them away and I have got nothing.”
John Robinson said he and his family were worried about the possibility of losing his disability living allowance (DLA), which he uses to lease a car through the Motability scheme, which he “could never afford without DLA”.
Julie Rana, another disabled protester, said she was at the rally because “if we are not careful and we do not campaign enough a lot of disabled people will not be able to afford to live”.
An estimated 1,000 people attended a Hardest Hit protest in Edinburgh, with speakers including the disabled peer Lord [Colin] Low, and Iain Gray, leader of the Scottish Labour party.
Another 1,000 campaigners marched through the streets of Cardiff, while 500 took part in a march through Bristol city centre and a rally in College Green. Speakers in Bristol included Labour MP Kerry McCarthy, who criticised the city council for cutting support and services for disabled people.
More than 400 people took part in the Manchester Hardest Hit protest, which was supported by disabled Coronation Street actress Cherylee Houston and two of her co-stars.
Speakers at the rally, outside the Town Hall, included disabled blogger Kaliya Franklin, who told fellow campaigners: “We will not sit quietly by while these cuts are made. We must continue to let our MPs, to let our peers and councillors know how our benefits and services really help us to live our daily lives and what losing our independence means.
“We want our dignity, we want our independence and we need a welfare system that supports people with the real costs of living with a disability.”
An estimated 500 protesters attended a march and rally in Norwich, with speakers including Jaspal Dhani, chief executive of the UK Disabled People’s Council, and Mark Harrison, chief executive of Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People.
Those who joined the march included David Rowntree, drummer with the band Blur and now shortlisted by Labour to fight the Norwich South seat at the next general election.
Dhani said afterwards: “Today’s protests demonstrate just how much disabled people, their friends and family are going to be affected by this government’s cuts and the many broken promises it has made to protect disabled people.
“Remember it was disabled people who campaigned for and won laws to tackle discrimination. We can and must do it again to resist these cuts.”
An estimated 350 people took part in the Hardest Hit protest in Nottingham, while 400 attended a march and rally in the centre of Leeds, with speakers including the Leeds Labour MP Hilary Benn, the shadow minister for communities and local government.
Paul Williams, a disabled carer, told the Leeds rally: “I am on a very low income. I can only manage because I get the lower rate of DLA, which is about £150 a month.
“My monthly fuel bill eats up most of the DLA. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I don’t gamble. I don’t have a car. I don’t go abroad. I don’t buy new things. One week out of four I run out of money to buy food and I just have to get by until some money comes in. I am already poor. I couldn’t survive without DLA.”
There was also a smaller Hardest Hit protest in nearby Bradford, organized by Bradford and District Disabled People’s Forum.
More than 1,000 protesters took part in a rally in Newcastle city centre, while a smaller event took place in nearby North Tyneside. The previous day there had been a rally at Sunderland Civic Centre.
Two days after the Newcastle rally, Labour MP Catherine McKinnell, who had taken part in the protest, asked disabled people’s minister Maria Miller in the Commons to respond to protesters’ concerns.
Miller told her: “I regularly meet all the major organisations that are involved in the march.”
She said the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health were spending an extra £7.2 billion on social care, an extra £3 million on user-led organisations and £180 million on disabled facilities grants.
Miller added: “Those are all additional areas of expenditure that disabled people should welcome.”
26 October 2011