A video screen showing messages from disabled people to the UK government has been driven around the streets of central Manchester, as ministers were taking part in the annual Conservative party conference just a few hundred yards away.
The video screen – mounted on a van – was paid for through a crowdfunding initiative that raised more than £1,600.
It allowed disabled people’s anger and frustration about issues such as independent living, benefit cuts and years of attacks on disability rights to be heard by delegates to the conference, as many disabled activists are continuing to shield at home from coronavirus and so were unable to protest in person outside the conference.
Even as those messages were being shared with the people of Manchester*, multi-millionaire chancellor Rishi Sunak was attacking the idea of increasing benefits in his set-piece conference speech.
The action – put together by activists from Disabled People Against Cuts in Manchester, Sheffield and Cheshire – saw drivers beeping their horns in support of the video messages, and passers-by taking pictures of the screen.
One of those whose messages featured on the screen, a young disabled woman called Ezra, describes in the film how her income will fall by £20-a-week because of this week’s scrapping of the universal credit uplift.
She says: “At the moment the government only gives me £900-a-month to live on.
“Half of that goes on rent. The other half goes on bills. I’m not left with anything for food.
“I have to use the money that’s given to me to pay for the costs of my disability on food, and then the costs of my disability aren’t met.
“Every extra cost, every health cost that I have, we aren’t able to meet.”
She adds: “I’m supposed to have 24-hour care. There are 168 hours in a week. I am given 47 hours of care by the council and I have the biggest care package in my local borough.
“There has to be someone who needs more care than me, but they are shunted into [residential] homes, separated from their families, from their spouses, possibly before they even need to be, because it’s cheaper for the local area, and I can’t think of anything more wrong than that.”
Other disabled people speak in the film of the lack of support during the pandemic, their problems in securing accessible housing, the attacks on access to justice, the repeated breaches of disabled people’s rights over the last decade, the unfairness of the benefit assessment system, and the need for a universal right to independent living.
Andrew Lee, director of People First (Self Advocacy), says in the film: “Supporting people is extremely challenging and that needs to be respected.
“There are a lot of holes in our social care system and that needs fixing.
“It needs a lot more support and respect given to it in the same way that our NHS is.”
Dennis Queen, a spokesperson for Manchester DPAC, told Disability News Service: “Disabled people are talking about every aspect of our lives, every aspect of our rights has been affected by this government, their policies and their practices.
“We have been given a clear message since 2010 about the value of our lives and that message has got worse, a lot worse.”
DPAC’s Shabaaz Mohammed said: “Disabled people taking part in our Disability Justice on the Big Screen event come from all walks of life and they have a clear message for the politicians: enough is enough.
“Incompetent and cruel decisions made by ministers, MPs and local council leaders alike have life or death consequences for disabled people and their families.
“Three out of every five lives lost to the pandemic were disabled people’s lives – yet disabled people make up only one in five of the general population.
“That statistic shames us as a society.”
Rick Burgess, from Manchester DPAC, added: “We couldn’t just sit back when the Conservative conference is happening in our city – we had to act.
“We’ve had so much amazing support from disabled people’s organisations across England, who helped us hire the mobile video screen.
“We are doing it this inclusive way so that people still at high risk from COVID and having to shield can be included in our protest in a way that’s safe for everyone.”
He added: “Disabled people are coming together, fighting back and raising awareness in government and the wider public about realities of being disabled in 2021.
“We want our rights upheld, we demand better from the politicians. We will not be silenced.”
*The film is due to be posted on YouTube next week
Picture: Dennis Queen beside the van, a couple of hundred yards from the conference
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