The government may have backed down over cuts to Personal Independence Payments [PIP, non-means tested benefit], but the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Stephen Crabb, has already said more cuts are in the pipeline.
There are now attacks on the rights and living conditions of disabled people from almost every direction:
• The cuts in benefit for new claimants on Employment Support Allowance (ESA), who are in the work-related activity group (WRAG) will be going ahead. This will be a £30 a week cut. From April 2017 nearly 500,000 will be hit by the ESA-WRAG cut. People who are being transferred over to Universal Credit from other benefits will have their claim treated as a new claim, and will also be affected by this cut. This cut will mean ESA claimants getting the same amount of money as those on Jobseeker’s Allowance, a cut of £1.4 billion off the government’s welfare budget.
• PIP itself is a step backwards from what we had before [with the Disability Living Allowance]. Many claimants have lost their entitlement to the higher rate mobility allowance, which enabled them to hire Motability cars. The loss of Motability cars is impacting on disabled people’s independence; many use their cars to get to work and without it travel becomes nigh impossible
• Due to cuts in local government funding for social care, disabled people are seeing massive cuts in care packages.
• Claims on the Access to Work Fund have been capped, [this has particularly affected deaf people’s access to signing services].
• The cut to the Independent Living Fund has been given transitional funding, but it is not ring-fenced, so that too could be cut.
• Other cuts, such as those in mental health services, on libraries, as well as the attacks contained in the Housing Bill, also impact badly on disabled people.
However I believe our campaigns are beginning to have an impact. When DPAC stormed Parliament in June 2015 we put the fight for the Independent Living Fund on the map. In March this year we stormed Parliament again over the ESA-WRAG cut. Our action was also to highlight the tragic human cost of the welfare reforms. Our slogan was “no more deaths from benefit cuts”.
This occupation was reported in the Times. A group of us happened to be on the train the next day. A woman reading the Times recognised me from the report. She got up and told the whole carriage: “Hey this lady and a group of disability activists occupied Parliament”. The carriage erupted in cheers. People wanted to know what was going on.
We have had a successful name and shame campaign against MPs who have voted for those cuts [#Nameandshame]. We asked charities to remove these cut-voting MPs as patrons [#Torydump].
Zac Goldsmith was one of those MPs — he was forced out of Richmond AID. On 17 March we went to Croydon when Goldsmiths was out on the campaign trail. We asked him about the ESA cut and his reply was, “Why are you worried about the cut, it’s not happening until next year?” Some of these MPs don’t even know what they are voting for!
On the 18 March we forced Osborne and Goldsmith to abandon a photo shoot in north London and hide from our protest in a portakabin for two hours. A few days later Iain Duncan Smith resigned. So we feel after six years our protests are beginning to have an affect. We have made Duncan Smith the most hated man in Britain. The public are starting to wake up and say “this isn’t right.”
The new leadership of the Labour Party – Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell – have been a great support, and were before they were elected. DPAC broke with our tradition and supported Corybn in his election for leader of the Labour Party. John McDonnell is going to announce DPAC’s September week of action at TUC Disabled Workers conference (19-20 May).
It is important, that Labour party activsts, trade unionists, and grass roots campaigners scrutinise what the Labour front bench talk about on Labour Party policy and have input into the shaping of policy. All of us must pile on the pressure for Labour to oppose the Tory austerity agenda. We want change, not more years of austerity. We have some interesting times ahead. Rank-and-file workers who maybe want to take action are also feeling they are being let down by their union leadership.
They want support from them when action is required. It’s their workers’ rights, their jobs on the line. They need support out there, not to be hampered by the leadership of the union. So when workers are losing their jobs and their rights, they need trade union support to fight their corner. To protect their jobs and rights. All the fights — our NHS, our welfare state, libraries, workers’ rights — impact on each other. When any of us take action, we should all be there to support it. It is only by showing solidarity to one another, by uniting together and fighting together, that we will win against the Tory government.
It’s important that when disability activists take action, the trade unions are there to support it. Unions have many disabled members, many of whom have been impacted by a multitude of cuts. We need to work together to stop that. DPAC, the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) and Winvisble have been asked to support the TUC Disabled Workers Conference with a demonstration on 19 May. Let’s put the joint solidarity into action in the fight for disabled people’s rights.