The last Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) before summer recess was noisily interrupted on Wednesday 19 July. But it was not something that you’re likely to see on the BBC. As the last time it happened, the broadcaster was forced off air.
Disabled people: had enough
Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) organised a “lobby” of MPs over sustained cuts to sick and disabled people’s support. The group says that, while older people’s social care has repeatedly hit the headlines, the Tories’ erosion of sick and disabled people’s “rights to dignity and choice” has largely been ignored. So members of DPAC took to parliament to make their feelings known.
The police were initially not allowing members of DPAC or The Canary into parliament, even though it was an officially organised lobby:
Some DPAC members expressed their disbelief that they were held in a gated area; with one member telling The Canary they felt “herded like cattle”:
Once in parliament, security only allowed DPAC members through after Labour’s John McDonnell came down and intervened:
— NO ONE (@depresseddawg74) July 19, 2017
Making their voices heard
But once inside, DPAC members made their feelings loudly known:
Many MPs came out of PMQs from the main chamber to see what was happening. And one MP was heard by The Canary telling a DPAC member to “keep the noise down”. But both McDonnell and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, along with Green Party co-leaders Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley, came and spoke to DPAC.
Support from Corbyn
Corbyn told The Canary and Disability News Service (DNS):
The cuts to… disabled people’s support have resulted in many people losing the possibility of a genuinely independent life, and genuinely supportive accommodation. I know this from my own constituency, as well as others. This is why we made it very clear during the general election campaign… that we would put more money [into disabled people’s support]. It’s often assumed that social care relates to older, dependent people… but there are also those with disabilities… that need social care as well. And that’s why we made the points we did during the election.
Corbyn backed DPAC’s lobby, saying they have good reason to be there and have a “right to protest”.
The lobby went off without incident, although security staff and police were accused by some DPAC members of purposefully making the lobby “difficult” and “inaccessible”. And they said that many of the parliamentary staff did not “appreciate” or “understand” their anger. But DPAC members have good reason to be angry with our elected politicians.
“Grave” human rights violations
In the space of a year, the UN has released three reports into the current and previous Conservative governments, and the former Coalition one. And in each, it heavily criticised the Tories’ policies regarding sick and disabled people; going so far as to say that they had committed “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights.
And due to their austerity agenda, which the UN said “disproportionately” hit disabled people the hardest, since 2010 the Tories have cut:
- The Independent Living Fund (ILF), which previously supported people with care packages. Since the government cut it, in some areas 88% of people have seen their care packages reduced by up to 50%.
- Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for sick and disabled people in the Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG) by a third. This will affect 500,000 people.
- 55% a week from ESA for sick and disabled 18-to-25-year-olds.
- 51,000 of disabled people’s Motability vehicles, which were vital for them to live independently.
- Personal Independence Payments (PIP) from 164,000 people living with mental health issues. And the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has reduced or stopped PIP for nearly half (45%) of all claimants.
A 21st century genocide?
There has been, however, little front-line political consensus to try and alleviate the impact of these repeated attacks on sick and disabled people. As the current affairs show The Last Leg said in March:
At first these cuts looked like a good plan experiencing teething problems, then it started to feel like a badly executed system. But now – it’s beginning to look a lot like disabled genocide. This government is slowly killing off a generation of disabled people.
But many MPs do not seem to understand the gravity of the situation. Or if they do, they either don’t care or they believe they are doing enough. If they really understood, they would realise hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people in this country are at breaking point. You can see it in the eyes of campaigners. You can hear it in the voices of disabled people. But most of our elected politicians sadly don’t.
So once again, it is down to campaigners, some opposition politicians, and the media to try and force the hand of the Conservatives. Sadly, only one of these three groups of people is likely to do anything meaningful. And it’s not the media or politicians.
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