On Monday 30 October, chronically ill and disabled people protested outside the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) over the department’s planned changes to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). The demo served as a stark reminder of how chronically ill and disabled people have had to fight the DWP for years – and, clearly, how they’re still going to have to.
The DWP’s latest changes to the WCA
As the Canary previously reported, the DWP is planning to change the WCA. Specifically, the following factors – currently considered in the assessment – are being removed:
- People’s mobility.
- Bladder or bowel incontinence.
- The inability to cope in social situations.
- People’s ability to leave their homes.
- Work being a risk to claimants or others – a clause which means that an individual is “treated as having limited capability for work and work related activity”.
That is, the DWP thinks anyone who would currently be exempt due to those descriptors should instead have to work from home. Reading between the lines, the DWP is trying to reduce the benefits bill by forcing more chronically ill and disabled people into work. As the charity Disability Rights told Disability News Service (DNS):
The government’s proposed changes to the work capability assessment are less to do with helping disabled people into work than a cynical attempt to impose conditionality and to reduce benefit payments.
In reality, these changes could be terrible for the people affected. They could mean that more people would lose the health-related elements of benefits like Universal Credit. In turn, this means the DWP could subject them to sanctions.
So, chronically ill and disabled people have begun fighting back – firstly, by going directly to the DWP’s head office.
DPAC: fighting back against the DWP
On Monday 30 October, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) organised a protest outside the DWP’s Caxton House offices in Central London:
Some people’s placards summed up the issues well:
Other groups were out supporting DPAC in person – including branches of Unite the Union’s community wing, and campaign group WinVisible:
Prominent DPAC and disability rights activist Paula Peters lead the protest. She has been one of the most visible faces in the ongoing fight against successive governments and the DWP. Online, campaign group the Chronic Collaboration also got involved:
— @TheChronicCollaboration (@TheChronicColab) October 30, 2023
However, one of the most pertinent statements came from John McArdle, a campaigner with Scottish disability rights group Black Triangle. He told the protest that campaign groups like his and DPAC had been taking direct action for “13 years, and things are still getting worse”.
Protesters then blocked the entrance into the road the DWP offices are located on:
DPAC used the chant “no more deaths from benefit cuts” – a slogan the group has used for years:
Cops, surprisingly, did nothing – but one driver was aggressive towards DPAC members:
White Van Man didn’t like disabled people protesting about the WCA tightening of descriptors he tried to keep driving through us disabled people at one point heads at level with front of his bonnet pic.twitter.com/K0uegU5Tkp
— paula peters (@paulapeters2) October 30, 2023
Overall, DPAC’s WCA protest marked a return to the activism the group has become well-known for, after the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic stopped a lot of the group’s activity. However, the demo was also a moment for reflection, too.
A lost decade
Campaigners formed both DPAC and Black Triangle in the wake of the 2010 election of the coalition government. This came at a time where the Tories and Lib Dems were pushing harsh reforms to the social security system. Both groups were a response to this – and both have been campaigning ever since. During this time, some members of DPAC have passed away – like co-founder Debbie Jolly:
The Canary has been covering DPAC’s actions since 2016, when the group and its supporters blocked Westminster Bridge in a high-profile piece of direct action. As we wrote at the time:
For disabled people, this is one of the most worrying times in decades. With support being cut, relentless attacks from the government, and hate crime rapidly rising, it’s little wonder that they feel they need to act. And in the 21st century, the fact that they still have to fight for their rights in such a public way should be a concern to us all.
Seven years later, the DWP’s persecution of chronically ill and disabled people has barely changed – as McArdle alluded to at the WCA demo. This is despite countless protests, political pressure, and even the UN getting involved. The international body found in a 2016 investigation that successive governments and the DWP had committed “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights.
Nothing changes, and disabled people have no choice but to fight
The demo felt like an eerie moment of déjà vu: hearing the same chants and seeing disabled people blocking roads felt like we’d been here before. DPAC, of course, very much has been here before. The fact that the group is once again having to protest over threats to disabled people – which is ultimately what the issue with the DWP’s WCA changes is – is a damning indictment of the department.
Moreover, though, it’s a damning indictment of society – there was little support for DPAC’s protest outside of the chronically ill and disabled communities.
In 2016, opposing the DWP cutting disabled people’s benefits was ‘all the rage’ among some sections of the political and media class, and non-disabled activists. Many people jumped on the bandwagon, lending their supposed solidarity. However, that support has clearly waned, and non-disabled activists, politicians, and journalists have moved on to the next issue they think will further their own aims or careers.
For chronically ill and disabled people, there is no moving on. This is their lives – and it was frustrating to see so little solidarity from non-disabled people. However, DPAC and other groups will continue to fight the DWP regardless of whether non-disabled people stand with them or not – not because they want to, but because they have no choice.
Featured image and additional images via the Canary and DPAC
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