5,000 to 10,000 persons with disabilities were expected for the Hardest Hit March to protest cuts to disability benefits in London today. Marchers also planned to meet with their Members of Parliament (MPs) to send a message to the government to stop cuts which include changes to welfare eligibility, cuts to disability living allowance (DLA) and local authority reductions in funding for carers and services, says a story in the Guardian. The cuts total £9 billion and amount to 10% of finance minister George Osborne’s £89 billion deficit reduction plan.
Below is a BBC video clip about the march:
The march, which was sponsored jointly by the Disability Benefits Consortium and the UK Disabled People’s Council, began at 12:30pm from Victoria Embankment in central London. The Guardian has been following the march at a live blog. One comment from the mother of a son with Down’s Syndrome:
Aileen Feasey, 52, from near Bodmin, Cornwall, came to London with her sons Andrew, 24, and Alastair, 19, on the overnight sleeper last night. Feasey said that she is marching for the rights of people like Andrew, who has down’s syndrome, to lead an independent life. Since 2009 he has one day a week in a work placement scheme as a general assistant in a leisure centre 15 miles away. But last month, she was told that his transport costs would no longer be paid by the council. He is now unable to go. Feasey said: “All we’ve fought for all Andrew’s life is going backwards. Without transport he is a prisoner in his own home. He doesn’t understand why he can’t go. He gets his leisure centre T-shirt on on Mondays and it’s very difficult to explain to him. We live in Cornwall; it’s a 40 mile round trip anywhere.” Andrew used to get £55 mobility allowance, which is being cut.
“He used to go to the theatre group, college a couple of days a week. But he’s unable to contribute to his transport costs. It’s unfair and it feels unlawful to charge his benefits against transport.”
Feasey, who is self-employed, was planning to go to university, but does not know if she now can. “I’ve cared for him for 24 years, to be an independent young man. But our lives have been turned upside down by this cut.”
Speakers at the march included actress Jane Archer, who is president of three disability organizations involved in the march, Arthritis Care, the National Autistic Society and Parkinson’s UK. Archer said the the march was “the largest rally of disabled people in living memory” while also noting that “at the same time, it is very sad that it has come to this.”
A report, Disability in Austerity, published this week by the think tank Demos and the disability organization Scope, makes it clear that, rather than being protected, persons with disabilities will be indeed be hit very hard by the cuts:
…disabled families across the country faced dramatic reductions in their household incomes, as a result of changes in the way benefits are uprated in line with inflation, and reforms of the way claimants are assessed for incapacity benefit and DLA.
Disabled people were quickly identified as likely to be among those hardest hit by the coalition’s reforms, the report states, because this group is at “substantially greater risk of living in poverty than non-disabled people, [and] disproportionately more reliant on welfare benefits than other low income groups”.
“We estimated that disabled people would lose £9bn [9 billion] in welfare support overall in the next five years,” the paper said. “We questioned whether the government had intended the budgetary axe to fall so heavily on this group and whether by attempting to ‘incentivise work’ for the majority, they had overlooked the disproportionate effect welfare cuts would have on those who were less able to join the labour market.”
Organizers of the march noted that, due to the difficulties persons with disabilities often face using public transit and traveling, many who would like to attend the march will not be there. A parallel campaign has been organized online; people can send a message to their MPs, as well as a photo or video of themselves. Indeed, the cost of getting to London was a “disincentive” for some, says Neil Coyle, director of policy at the Disability Benefits Consortium:
“One third of working age disabled people live in poverty, but that figure doesn’t account for the higher cost of living they face, so they have a far lower disposable income than most people in England.
“If you are on employment and support allowance, the highest level is around £12.50 [about $20.55] a day, which means a train ticket to London (bearing in mind that buses and coaches are still not accessible for wheelchair users) is likely to be unaffordable. And for people with arthritis or a heart condition, for example, a rally is not necessarily going to be the most appropriate way to campaign. There are a lot of reasons why it could be difficult for people to attend a physical rally like this, which is why the online campaign is so important.”
Coyle’s comments really speak to me. I am not disabled but am unable to attend many conferences and other events about autism, disability rights, services and more, due to the needs of our teenage son, Charlie, who’s on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum. I would like very much to take Charlie to such an event as the Hardest Hit March were there to be an equivalent in the US, but he would be overwhelmed by the noise, the crowds and the travel to a busy place (New York or Washington DC, for instance). For these reasons, I’m very glad the march’s organizers have set up the online campaign.
Please sign this petition to fight cuts for funding for benefits for persons with disabilities in the UK.
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