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There will be more protests like yesterday's disability march

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Damon Rose Damon Rose | 10:14 UK time, Thursday, 12 May 2011

The organisers of yesterday's Hardest Hit protest in London were suggesting last night that they intend to replicate the success of the protest across the country.

Late in the afternoon, RNIB's Steve Winyard, chair of the march's organising committee, told the BBC: "We believe there were around 8,000 people present and the Met Police have confirmed this."

"Only about one and a half thousand signed up online, so we're all really pleased," said a steward earlier in the day as crowds began to get larger.

In disability terms, this is a very big turnout. To get lots of disabled people in one place takes a lot of energy and planning from organisers and participants alike.

At the midday rally, Jane Asher, actress and president of Arthritis care, acknowledged "the supreme effort" that those present had made to be there, and "those at home worrying and frightened at just what these cuts are going to mean to them".


Disabled portable toilets


Visible on the day were many accessible portaloos, toileting areas for assistance dogs, a big screen, sign language interpreters, palantypist/stenographers and quiet areas in the nearby Methodist Central Hall for people overwhelmed by the level of activity. Leading up to the march, information was created in many accessible formats: video, braille, large print and digital.

Previous big disability events in the capital have included the campaign against ITV's 24 hour Telethon fundraiser in the early 90s, and the Rights Now protests which led to the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995. Exact figures for attendance seem lost in the mists of time but are generally thought to be in the early thousands.

Steve Winyard said: "What's great is that it was the Disability Benefits Consortium working hand in hand with the UK Disabled People's Council and the disabled people's organisations. A lot of people said this couldn't work but it's worked brilliantly."

"This will be the basis of new and potentially even more effective campaigning round the country. We're going to take the campaign around the UK working to affect MPs at a local level. We can do the same sort of link between local independent living centres, disabled people's organisations and local arms of the big charities to create effective coalition."


Marchers on the Hardest Hit march near the Houses of Parliament in central London


The DBC and UKDPC led The Hardest Hit march from Victoria Embankment to a mass lobby of parliament on Wednesday afternoon. Disabled people and their allies in the form of organisations, friends and families, made up the crowd.

The organisers maintain that disabled people are "the hardest hit" in the budget cuts being spearheaded by the coalition government.

A combination of benefit changes and reductions in budgets given to local councils could result in many local care services being pulled and less money to live on. Campaigners say this stops disabled people from being able to contribute to society.

Speaking on Tuesday's Call You and Yours on Radio 4, Minister for Disabled People, Maria Miller, reminded listeners that the reform policies are not yet finalised, saying: "It's in the government's interest to understand how our reforms are going to work and, where necessary, for us to be able to refine that. We're working on an ongoing basis on all of our reforms with disabled people and disabled people's organisations; it's in our interests all to get it right."

On the same programme, Broken of Britain's Kaliya Franklin said: "We know that the overall amount that George Osbourne wants to cut from the deficit is 89 billion pounds, of which at least 9 [billion] is going to be lost directly from disabled people."

Wheelchair user Daisy and her father

Bystander, 9 year old Daisy Holland and her father: “I’ve never seen so many wheelchairs in one place. It’s great” she said.

Organisers say they were "massively disappointed" that Maria Miller did not accept an invite to address Wednesday's rally.

The larger coalition plan is to address a perception that too many people are now living free on taxpayers' money. In a speech last year, David Cameron talked about benefit fraudsters: "When you work hard and still sometimes have to go without the things you want because times are tough, it's maddening to know there are some people who could work but just don't want to. You know the people I mean. You walk down the road on your way to work and you see the curtains drawn in their
house. You know they could work, but they choose not to."

A recent Com Res poll for the charity Scope, found that 92% of disabled people are concerned about the impact of government spending cuts on them personally. The government say they need to focus more on those most in need.

The Disability Benefits Consortium is made up of 50 member organisations, including: Scope, RNID, Sense, RADAR, Rethink, MIND and Guide Dogs.



  • Comment number 1.

    Do you think the anarchists who disrupted the Student Fees protests are disablists? After all, they weren't even in evidence yesterday...

  • Comment number 2.

    Government playing disabled people off against the mythical "most in need" again, I see. I ain't fooled.

  • Comment number 3.

    there already are more protests - disabled people, claimants groups and anti-cuts activists have this week staged a Week of Action Against Atos Origin which has seen atos offices picketed and even occupied in around 20 towns and cities across the UK

  • Comment number 4.

    "When you work hard and still sometimes have to go without the things you want because times are tough, it's maddening to know there are some people who could work but just don't want to. You know the people I mean. You walk down the road on your way to work and you see the curtains drawn in their house. You know they could work, but they choose not to."

    I suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, as well as several other conditions that can't be seen and which I don't wish to go in to. And yes my curtains are sometimes drawn late in the day. It is a struggle to get through life as it is, but to abused by the Prime minister in such terms, makes me think that he would rather people like me just took our own lives.

  • Comment number 5.

    Why put articles like this on the Disability Section only - we already know what's happening. Put them on the main News page of the BBC. Let the public know. They are the ones who need educating. The sooner the public know what is happening to disabled people, the sooner we will win the fight and get this agony over with.

  • Comment number 6.

    Seriously just what is the point of the protests when there is next to no mention of them in the media.
    What little reporting there was hardly mentioned ATOS.
    I have also not see ONE report about the demonstration outside ATOS in Truro.

  • Comment number 7.

    We should be complaining the BBC did not make this protest prime news too nor did an in-depth program on prime time inviting the disablist Tories on and disabled demanding answers from them, instead we have government ministers refusing to meet the disabled or vulnerable and the press launching daily attacks on them. It's like Syria without the bullets. We have to bring down the coalition.

  • Comment number 8.

    I listened to BBC You and Yours on 10th May, and I was appalled at some of the opinions expressed by Mark Littlewood, and at his downright ignorance and dismissive attitude towards the issues facing disabled people. I have no clue what the BBC was thinking when they invited him to take part - he is the Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs and as such his ONLY interest is in saving money - this was self evident in his uncaring and frankly offensive attitude. I was astonished when he announced that he thought the disability benefits system should be rolled back fifty years and the 'deserving cases' amongst the disabled should be dealt with by charitable organisations. He also ventured the opinion that all disabled people should take responsibility for 'overcoming' their own disability and not rely on the state. I love it when fit, healthy people spout glib theories like this, without actually having to back them up. To know how to overcome a disability you first have to know what it's about - and Mr Littlewood very clearly demonstrated that he doesn't have a clue. It's all very well for him to sit there in his ivory tower and pontificate - he doesn't actually have to do it. He reeled off a series of ways in which he has insured himself against future disability and having to claim from the state, and said that everyone should have a similar insurance policy. WHAT ??? Fine - if you're starting off as able bodied, but what if you have a congenital, lifelong disability? For those of us who are unfortunate enough to be in this position, ANY kind of health or income replacement related insurance is virtually impossible to obtain, and if it were, it would be unaffordable - disabled people are amongst some of the lowest paid workers if they are not existing on benefit so how do we afford it ? I am in my fifties and have a thirty year clean driving record. I have been with motability for most of that time on their leasing scheme, which includes insurance. When I considered buying my own vehicle I enquired about car insurance and was quoted over £1100 per year, simply because I am disabled - despite never having had an accident. How would Mr Littlewood like to be in that position ? He is totally out of touch with how real, people live, and he seems to be advocating an 'I'm alright Jack, so sod you' approach to caring for the most vulnerable in society. He kept saying that the pot is empty, so we have to prioritise. Well, Mr Littlewood, for a start, how about asking the banks for the taxpayers money back? They played a major part in getting us into this mess and they rewarded the investment from the taxpayer by taking massive bonuses out of the money used to bail them out. Since they are now not interested in kick starting the economy by lending to small businesses or providing mortgages, what was the point of bailing them out in the first place ? How about stopping the ongoing debate about MPs expenses by abolishing them altogether ? They've demonstrated that they're not to be trusted - which appears to be Mr Littlewood's basic argument for the abolition of disability benefits (his words were 'I simply don't believe that many people are incapable of work), so lets remove the facility altogether and force MPs to live and work like the rest of us - with a salary on which we have to live within our means. We could also stop providing welfare support to the well off - yes, I'm talking about child benefit folks! I had to stop working when my employer (which was then the Employment Service - now the DWP !!) offered me early retirement on medical grounds because the worsening effects of my disability (spina bifida) were making work impossible. I paid tax and national insurance all my working life, and still do, out of a small health retirement pension. I claim IB and get DLA for mobility and care - fully assessed at medical examinations despite readily available medical records. My husband, who is also disabled, is in a low paid job, and has worked all his life. I don't feel one bit ashamed of claiming the benefits to which I am entitled because I worked while I could, and when I could no longer cope, the welfare state stepped in and provided the support which it had promised for people like me AND TO WHICH I HAD CONTRIBUTED THROUGH WORK. I resent now being viewed as a scrounger and constantly being told I am being supported through the taxation of others. What about my taxes ? Isn't this what the welfare state was supposed to be for ? I WOULD, however, feel ashamed to be part of a couple earning anything like £80,000 a year, and still having the nerve to claim child benefit. If we really want to get our priorities right, we should recognise that becoming a parent is a life choice, being disabled is not. The welfare state was created to support those in difficult circumstances - it has no business dishing out money to people who are perfectly able to provide for themselves. Unfortunately, no matter how bad things get, child benefit will still be paid at this level, because withdrawing it is a vote loser - big time. Mr Littlewood ventured some offensive and ignorant opinions during this programme - there are public figures who have been forced to resign for less than this, and in my opinion we should start calling for his resignation - after all, his insurance will cover him !!!

  • Comment number 9.

    If you were unable to attend the Hardest Hit March but wish to take part in a virtual protest, please send the letter below to you local MP and news agencies and pass along to all your contacts to do likewise

    Many thanks


    Dear Sir(s)
    I with many others, believe that there should be a vote of no confidence in Ms Maria Miller MP Disabilities Minister for the following reasons:

    1) For failing to fight hard enough to ensure that disabled people receive a fairer assessment of capabilities (specifically the Work Capability Assessment implemented by such companies as ATOS) and which is generally acknowledged to be a flawed test.

    2) I and many others believe that, in the light of the recent/threatened cuts to benefits for disabled people, and the cuts affecting disabled people generally, will bring harm, a loss of dignity and a loss of independence to disabled people both at home and where applicable, in their working lives. I and many others believe that her absence at the ‘Hardest Hit March’ on the 11th of May 2011 shows that she is reluctant to engage directly with disabled peoples concerns.

    3) To the best of my knowledge, I and many others believe that Ms Maria Miller, in her role as MP has not taken a sufficiently strong public stand to protect disabled people from disability hatred. Such disability hatred may include acts perpetrated by the media or individual perpetrators of verbal abuse, violence and/or criminal damage when it occurs.

    It is for the above reasons that I and many others believe that Ms Maria Miller MP is out of touch with the worries, concerns and outrage felt by disabled members of society and therefore, urge ministers to press for a vote of no confidence in Ms Miller.

    Name, Address.

  • Comment number 10.

    i posted a non-favourable comment and your machine binned it

  • Comment number 11.

    I detect an uneasy paradox here.

    Tax funded, public sector BBC known for it's gross Largesse comments on cuts.

    Caused by Labour [Iraq war £20billion and rising; building new schools (rather than improving results) £245billion etc].

    On a web site called Ouch! (snappy, trendy, right on), which I've never heard of (it costs how much? based in? London perhaps?) - an in joke?

  • Comment number 12.

    "I detect an uneasy paradox here."

    I detect you have no grasp of irony.

  • Comment number 13.


    You're against free speech then.

    That was harsh + bitchy.

  • Comment number 14.

    These changes in benefit claims are not about people in wheel chairs. They are being used as mannequins by the organised Labour backed anti government movement. Its disgusting. The pictures of wheel chair and disabled people are immoral because these folks are never going to fail a medical test for disability.

    There are many many hundreds of thousands of people claiming disability who are simply liars and cheats who are conning money out the rest of us. There needs to be a more closely monitored and tested assessment, more frequently, in order to ensure that the money we do have as a country is given to people who actually deserve it.


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