This is another post looking back through disabled people’s history, but from more recent times. The title was a chant at a demo against benefit cuts by the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN) which took place in Leeds on 17th March 1998.
Reading through the leaflets and press releases produced for this action, I’m struck by how similar they are to statements from DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) and other disabled people’s organisations currently fighting cuts to welfare and challenging austerity policies. They could be talking about the current situation.
The DAN leaflet asks,
- angry or worried about benefit cuts?
- fed up of being labelled as an undeserving scrounger?
- sick of having to claim you are useless in order to get the benefits you need to survive in this inaccessible society?”
The DAN action targeted the Department for Work & Pension’s headquarters in Leeds. The government had introduced the Benefits Integrity Project (BIP), a pre-cursor to today’s Work Capability Assessments in many respects.
Aimed at rooting out benefit fraud, BIP reviewed the Disability Living Allowances of hundreds of thousands of disabled people. It was set up in the dying days of the Conservative government, but implemented under Labour. By December 1997 20% of those people had their benefits cut or stopped altogether. Despite “severely disabled” people and people with terminal illnesses being exempt from the review, hundreds from these groups were included.
“To cut benefits for disabled people will be a matter of life or deathto some, and will certainly affect the independence of many. DLA (disability living allowance) is supposed to “level the playing field” between disabled and non-disabled people. So if it’s cut the government is saying disabled people should have a lower quality of life than non-disabled people.
“Disabled people won’t put up with this treatment.
“This is our chance to let Tony Blair know how angry we are about his plans to make disabled people pay for his government’s pledge not to raise income tax.”
“Hundreds of Benefits Agency workers were evacuated from their headquarters yesterday when a fire alarm was set of by disabled protesters.
“Dozens of people in wheelchairs, their carers and other supporters packed the foyer of Quarry House in Leeds, Chanting “Benefit cuts have got to go!” in protest at the Government’s plans to reduce the number of people claiming disability benefits.
A spokesman for the building management team at Quarry House said it would be inappropriate for him to comment on who set off the alarm.”
BIP was abandoned later that year, and many people (but not everyone) had their benefits reinstated. As all parties blamed each other for the debacle, Tory MP Simon Burns attacked the government’s “shoddy and piecemeal” approach to reforming social security.
Now it’s our turn to accuse the current Tory government of acting shoddily. In fact, shoddy doesn’t go far enough. Just this week the government has won their battle with the House of Lords to cut Employment Support Allowance weekly support from £103 to £73, for new ESA claimants in the work-related activity group. See which MPs voted for the cut here.
Also this week, the government has announced a cut to disabled people’s aids and appliances, in a move that will enable further tax cuts.
This is just another stage in the erosion of disabled people’s rights. Along with Baroness Jane Campbell, we’re speechless.