The TUC Disability Committee agreed that the TUC ‘March for the Alternative...’ should be an event that highlighted the severity of cuts experienced and to be experienced by disabled people in the UK. Without claiming a hierarchy of cuts, disabled people can look forward to the following:
1. A reduction of 20% of claimants when Disability Living Allowance changes to a Personal Independence Payment
2. Possibility of 80,000 living in residential homes losing Disability Living Allowance Mobility Component;
3. Migration from Incapacity Benefit to JobSeekers Allowance will find scores of thousands of disabled people financially worse off;
4. Contributory ESA, paid only to those with sufficient NI contributions, is to be time limited to 12 months;
5. A Work Capacity Assessment that is viewed by all except the nasty right as draconian;
6. If migrated to JSA people losing disability status; thus, unable to access extra resources given to disabled jobseekers;
7. The Independent Living Fund being scrapped – this will cause thousands of disabled people to be trapped in their homes;
8. Housing benefit cuts;
9. The removal of security of tenure from social housing tenants, this disproportionately impact on disabled people;
10. Eligibility criteria dropped for all but critical care support. This will mean people with substantial care needs not being able to bathe themselves; being unable to clean themselves after voiding their bowels; not being able to shop or cook...
11. Care packages cut; whereby disabled people will receive the most rudimentary of care and support; maybe just enough to fend of hunger and illness. No provision for poverty of the soul; or social starvation;
12. Access to Work is cutting back on items it will fund. Thus employers becoming more loathe than they already are to employ disabled people;
13. Supported employment schemes, including Remploy, threatened with closure, by fair means and foul;
14. Cuts to community transport systems;
15. Removal of eligibility for Freedom Passes to people with mental health disabilities – experts in this field of disability are predicting a rise in suicides as a direct result of isolating people with mental health disabilities from families, friends and support networks;
16. Reductions in the TaxiCard’s subsidy; the contribution made by the user doubling; and, the two-swipe system being abolished. So, limiting the resource to around about a one-mile journey.
17. Cuts in police budgets will see setbacks in their response to disability hate crimes.
As can be seen, disabled people are really under the cosh. But then, we’re an easy target. The wheel that can’t turn won’t squeak; so, no grease for us. Except, our small voice and near-invisibility was noted by the TUC; and accordingly we were told we could have a presence at the front of the march. This wasn’t an act of charity; no, it was a political decision made in order that people watching this march would see that the movement has disability at its heart; not some bolt-on remembered after the event.
As the Chair of the TUC Disability Committee, and due to my profile within the wider disability movement, I was chosen to speak on behalf of disabled people. When chosen it was agreed that my speech should reach out to disabled people in and out of work; people with visible and invisible disabilities; those with physical and sensory as well as those with learning and mental health disabilities.
This was no easy task. On the one hand I was presented with a lengthy list of cuts and a plethora of different organisations and impairment specific groups all hoping to get a mention. In the end I decided to be impairment non-specific. Disability is disability and can be a distraction, divisive even, when people try to force their particular area of disability, or more usually impairment, up the agenda.
The one concession to disability organisations I did make within the speech was to mention ‘Remploy’ by name – my 16-years of, first working for Remploy; then organising and representing members holds a special place in my heart. Other than that, it was disability-organisation-free.
It’s probably no boast to state that the 26th March protest attracted more disabled demonstrators than any single event, probably ever. We turned up in our thousands in chairs, on crutches, with sticks. We came with friends, with carers/PAs, trade union branches, disability organisations and alone. We marched, hobbled and wobbled, were pushed and pushed ourselves along. With or without vision we wended our way along the route drinking in the sights, sounds, smells as well as feeling the frisson of electricity, of hope, generated by hundreds of thousands of people with a common cause.
The feedback I’ve had from both disabled marchers and rally-goers is positive, mainly.