Oxford Circus was completely blocked today as a group of people from Disabled People Against Cuts(1), Disabled People’s Direct Action Network(2) and UK Uncut(3) came together to protest against the government’s Welfare Reform Bill.
At 12 o’clock, a group of 15 wheelchair users chained themselves together in the middle of Regent Street using handcuffs, causing a backlog of traffic to build up and bringing Oxford Circus and the surrounding area to a complete standstill.
They were joined by over 100 more people who had responded to a call by UK Uncut to meet at Holborn station to ‘shame the government into withdrawing the bill completely'(4). A crowd of people, including a samba band, gathered there and marched together towards the target, which had been a secret until the wheelchairs were chained in place. Some people said they had travelled from as far as Manchester, Cornwall and Edinburgh to take part in the action, which was called by disabled activists and others directly affected by the bill.
The protest comes after a week in which the bill stalled on its progress through Parliament, with many aspects rejected by the House of Lords. Opposition has been mounting following publication of the ‘spartacus report’ which was written, researched and funded by disabled campaigners, and which claims that the government misled the public and ‘broke its own code of consultation'(5).
The protesters say that the Welfare reform bill is ‘unfair, unnecessary and unpopular’ and are calling for it to be scrapped. Recent reports have shown that as a result of the bill 500,000 families stand to lose their homes while others will become ‘imprisoned in them’(6). Nearly half a million people would lose their Disability Living Allowance, including disabled children(7). People with terminal illnesses would be forced into work, and 3.2 million will be put through demanding tests that have already pushed some to take their own lives(8). The government’s own research admits that this flagship reform will push 100,000 children into poverty(9).
The government has defended the bill on the grounds that it needs to cut the deficit. However, the protesters point out that much greater amounts of money are lost through tax dodging by the super-rich each year. In January, Private Eye revealed a further £2 billion tax dodge by Vodafone, in addition to the £6 billion scam revealed in 2010(10). The most recent dodge by Vodafone is greater than the cuts to Disability Living Allowance, which will affect half a million people.
Rosemary Willis from DPAC said “Maria Miller, so-called Minister for disabled people, has repeatedly stated that we are ‘financially unsustainable’ and we want to ask this government exactly what they mean by that. We will not let this government push through these changes which have already led to disabled people taking their own lives.”
UK Uncut supporter Josie McDermot, 32, said “The welfare reform bill is cruel and and unnecessary, and this protest is an essential way to persuade the government to scrap their plans. It is great to be part of such a broad and powerful campaign against the Welfare Reform Bill and to keep building the pressure that has already been piled on with the Spartacus report.
She added, “It is typical bully tactics by the government to force marginalised people in society to pay for the economic downturn, while letting bonuses run wild and rich companies continue tax dodging to the tune of £25bn”
1 – Disabled People Against Cuts is a UK based organisation fighting for justice and human rights for all disabled people. http://www.dpac.uk.net/ | http://twitter.com/Dis_PPL_Protest
2 – http://www.facebook.com/groups/directactionnetwork/?ref=ts
3 – UK Uncut is a grassroots anti-austerity direct action network. The announcement of the action is available at http://www.ukuncut.org/blog/message-from-the-invisible
4 – http://www.ukuncut.org/blog/message-from-the-invisible
5 – https://skydrive.live.com/view.aspx/Responsible%20Reform%20for%20screen%20readers.doc?cid=cba86408918caa9e
6 – http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/joepublic/2011/dec/14/welfare-reform-families-lose-homes & http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/16050
7 – http://www.mencap.org.uk/news/article/half-million-disabled-people-may-lose-benefit
8 – http://www.disabilitynow.org.uk/latest-news2/medical-test-for-dla & http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/may/31/consequences-benefit-changes-mental-health
9 – http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/jan/22/housing-crisis-benefit-cuts?intcmp=239
10 – http://www.private-eye.co.uk/sections.php?section_link=in_the_back&