A disabled comedian has accused the government of making disabled people beg for their benefits, as the petition she has spearheaded for the last year appeared certain to reach its target of 100,000 people within days.
Francesca Martinez was speaking to Disability News Service as the War On Welfare (WOW) Petition passed 97,000 names.
For the first nine months, it seemed as though the petition was going to fall short of its 100,000 target.
But in the last few weeks, it has taken a huge leap forward after securing more mainstream attention in publications like the Daily Mirror, and the petition now looks certain to reach its target before the cut-off point of 12.12pm on 12 December.
If it reaches that mark, it should force a debate in the House of Commons on its demands, which include the need for a cumulative impact assessment on the cuts and other reforms affecting disabled people, and an immediate end to the much-criticised work capability assessment.
In the last three months, Martinez has been tweeting up to 50 times a day in a bid to see the petition reach its target.
She said: “I am not a pushy person, but I think it’s worth it. A lot of people are not aware of how bad things are and how much the government is eroding basic human rights.”
She added: “I find it disgusting about these policies that they are making us beg and they are painting disabled people as a group in society who want to live off the state.
“It is absolutely disgusting, this perception of disability that is being tarnished, [suggesting] that disabled people are lazy and workshy.”
Although Martinez has been the face of the WOW Petition, the campaign was not her idea. She was approached last year by a group of campaigners who asked her to front the petition.
She said: “They are totally committed. I think it is a brilliant illustration of normal people making a difference and challenging that awful apathetic feeling that things are shit but we can’t really do anything. I just find that very inspiring.
“I have learned that there is always something that you can do if you care and you get together with other people that care; you can make a difference.
“The main thing for me is that people are coming together and trying and demanding better. I have been humbled by seeing that.”
Martinez is heavily involved in the mainstream anti-cuts movement, The People’s Assembly Against Austerity, which is promising protests and direct action over the next year.
Asked if she will take part in any direct action – and risk arrest – she said: “I have never been arrested. All of my heroes have been arrested. I guess at some point I should be arrested.
“Yes, I think we all have to get our hands dirty at some point. I know People’s Assembly is planning a big march in the spring and direct action will be a big part of that.
“One thing that spurs me on is that so many disabled people cannot leave their houses and protest because of their disability. I think there is a huge duty on all those of us who can to go out and speak up for them.
“It breaks my heart to think that the government have targeted people because they think they will not be able to fight back.”
Martinez believes the tide may – finally – be turning, away from the government’s welfare reforms and towards an acceptance of the need for social security.
She said: “Perhaps because we are being attacked on so many levels, people may finally be waking up to realising, ‘Maybe that is not the kind of world we want. Maybe we do not want people to suffer because of their income.'”
She said the petition was “really about ensuring that when people are faced with illness or disability that life doesn’t become an awful struggle for finances”.
She added: “In a civilised society I think we should protect people in that time rather than make their lives harder.”
28 November 2013