This is a guest post from Debbie Jolly, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC)
In spite of implicit claims in the Brindle article that there is no ‘fight back’ disabled people have stopped traffic in Oxford Street , Trafalgar Square , protested against and closed the offices of Atos, protested online through blogs and social media, provided briefing notes and researched and gained significant victories in publicising exactly what is happening -both DPAC and Black Triangle hope they have been an impetus, along with the growing network of allies, user-led disabled peoples’ organisations and key anti-cuts groups across the UK and in Europe –all of us recognise the severe harm that the ‘cuts’ are doing to large groups of ordinary people.
In the very first DPAC protest on 3rd October 2010 disabled people came together to lead the march against the cuts proposed by this Government, liaised with unions and other anti-cuts groups- it poured with rain, but DPAC were the first to have a synchronised online protest too. Disabled people saw a need for early action at a time when many formal disabled peoples’ organisations (DPOs) made few public statements on spending reviews or cuts and when the big disability charities remained silent. From the 100 or so original October 2010 protesters and campaigners –there are now thousands, overall numbers are growing at rapid rate- contra Brindle, disabled leaders are emerging in their hundreds trained by anger and despair at what is happening to their lives and the lives of others under this Government.
The reality of the impact of the cuts on the lives of disabled people are much worse than any of us imagined on that rainy day in October: framed by an apparent media campaign in some sections to demonise disabled people as ‘scroungers (despite administrative error and fraud at 0.04 and 0.5% for disability support) , we have seen a rising level of disability hate crime, increasing suicides amongst disabled people , more and more disabled people relying on handouts from family and friends because they are being left without any income, disabled people losing their homes, disabled people with paid jobs seeing those jobs removed in a clear ‘cuts agenda’ , basic support from local authorities being cut to the bone, a move back to the threat of institutionalisation and away from independent living  , and a move away from inclusive education for disabled children.
The UK was once a European example of how disabled people’s inclusion, support and equality could be applied. It’s now an example of how fast these basic human rights can be reversed. In two years we have witnessed: the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) to new applicants , disability living allowance (DLA) to pay for the additional costs of disability being stripped from individuals, DLA to be replaced by an expensive and unnecessary round of reassessments for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) with a pre-assessment criteria that 500,000 people will lose all support, cut backs and a steep fall in Access to Work applicants with a tightening of criteria and more costs being passed to employers. We see that some individuals pronounced as ‘fit for work’ by Atos are dying days after leaving their assessment centres , while those with terminal illness and less than 12 months to live are being told to seek work, and having income stopped.
This regime is not about supporting disabled people nor is it about supporting disabled people into work – it’s about cuts. It’s about erasing the years that individuals have worked and paid national insurance for welfare support. It’s not about saying the social model has failed- it hasn’t, if anything it’s been made stronger. It’s about recognising the imposition of a bio-psycho social model- a model
that the Government and its partner companies use to provide a bizarre focus on denying disability, impairment and ill-health each of which are being reconstructed as individual failings brought about by individuals adopting the wrong attitude-thinking yourself ‘well’ is cheap-it’s also impossible.
The recent Dispatches and Panorama television programmes on the work capability assessment (WCA) and the regime used by Atos exposed what many of us have known for too long to a wider audience: a system designed to remove over a million disabled people from welfare support that has caused misery, anxiety and the premature deaths and suicides of an estimated 32 people a week . The WCA – a revolving door of Atos assessment, appeal, tribunal, and reassessment has produced horror stories of inhuman proportions. In one of the programs an Atos ‘assessor’ asked someone who had taken several overdoses why they weren’t dead yet. There are stories of people being forced to walk until they collapse and being declared ‘fit for work’ and those that Atos has signed off as unfit for work on employee schemes being declared ‘fit to work’ on the state schemes of cuts under the WCA. Atos have recently been awarded the PIP contract and are official sponsors of the Olympics . These are additional reasons why the Atos games: a week of activities for people to raise the issues of the inhumanity of these ‘tests’ and the callous removal of vital supports is happening.
The use of Tom Shakespeare’s quote in the Brindle piece that ‘… the politics of disability seem to have run out of steam.’ is grossly misleading: disabled people are fighting back in every way we can: Black Triangles’ tireless campaign to secure a total condemnation of the WCA by the British Medical Association resulting in the call for ‘the WCA to end with immediate effect’, the Mental Health Resistance Network’s successful case for a judicial review of the WCA, the exposure of the ‘tampering’ with the Ministry of Justice’s You Tube video to help people through appeals against Atos decisions’ by Government, the continuing evidence and fight back for Atos assessments to be scrapped, the continuing legal challenges, the use of social media to spread information, undercover work with and by researchers, Freedom of Information requests and gains from empathetic media, lawyers, and MPs are all part of the ‘steam’-This is not being led by well paid Charity directors, nor as Macrae suggests by those who see themselves as victims but by disabled people without any funds fuelled by a raging sense of injustice and the will to fight back.
John McDonnell’s words from the opposition day debate on disability benefits and social care in which he stated his support for DPAC, Black Triangle and the Remploy workers warned:
‘…the Government should not think that this issue or these people are going to go away because they are not: these people are mobilising. We now have a disability movement of which we have not seen the equal of before…these people are not going to go away. They will be in our face-and rightly so’
The Atos games are an opportunity for all to show their anger at the disproportionate cuts being imposed on disabled people and the 99%. They are an opportunity to mobilise against the carnage the cuts administered by this Government are causing.
Details and resources including local actions pack and a minute menu of protest activities on DPAC dpac.uk.net
See you on the streets.