Stroll and Roll sets off
NUS Disabled Students' Campaign
Protesting TESCOs part in Pathways to Work
You Are Not Alone
Welfare not Workfare
John McDonnell MP speaking at the rally
Later a CAWRB fringe meeting was held at the Disability Rights Commission Equality Zone in the Novotel hotel. Speakers touched on personal experience, the impact of the bill, and the campaign against it.
Mike Higgins of DAN said "today, for the first time ever, we have had a national demonstration of disabled people, organised by the Coalition Against the Welfare Reform Bill, at a political party conference. And which party is it? It’s New Labour, those people who were going to introduce the social model of disability according to their manifesto in 1997, they were going to transform society. What have we got? We’ve got disabled people frightened to come to the demonstration because they don’t want to be picked out on camera because they might have to go to the job centre and they’ll say if you’re fit enough to go on a demonstration you’re fit enough to work ... We want real work for real wages, we are not for New Labour's idea of the worthy and the unworthy poor. We want a proper job for proper pay, jobs that meet our needs."
The campaign demands that Government quickly rethink this damaging policy and that welfare reform is tackled from a social model of disability approach.
Simone Aspis of BCODP said "We want the Disability Discrimination Act to be tightened up to stop employer's discrimination against disabled people. We want a basic disability income that is available to all at the same rate. We want access to work to be more available, both to employers and disabled people. More crucially we want employers to be much more flexible for the rights of disabled people and full recognition that at times disabled people will be unable to work and therefore we should recognise they deserve a decent income that will allow them to have a decent quality of life. "
In response to the demonstrations a spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: "We have been quite clear that no-one on Employment Support Allowance [the proposed replacement for incapacity benefit] will ever, now or in the future, be forced to look for a job or undertake a specific activity and the Bill provides neither Jobcentre Plus nor private providers with the powers to do so."
However, whilst claimants will thankfully not be physically dragged into jobs the Welfare Reform Bill is quite clear that if a claimant does not undertake prescribed activities they can have their benefit cut. The DWP is at least being disingenuous and certainly there is little understanding from Government of the impact upon claimants of such threats.
As Steve Blake of Welfare Reform UK said " I’m not in this wheelchair because I want to be ... I’m here because somebody did that. I lost a business, I lost a home, I lost a job because of it. I have to budget for every single thing. We spend £1.50 a day on food for two of us to eat, except on Sundays when it’s £3. So you just think about what that does to me. I can’t afford to buy new clothes; I’ve had one pair of new trousers in eighteen months. And they want to take away half of what I’ve got, what I’m living on already, which isn’t enough to live on."
OJ of People First spoke of her feelings on the reforms: "They are talking about sending me for even more tests to see if I am really entitled to income support and as you can see it is understandable – I look like a person with learning difficulties. Then they say I will have job related interviews where they decide if I really am a cripple. I hope they will be paying for me to go to all of the interviews for jobs. I know that I will not get [the jobs]. I can see us going back to the dark ages where we are in a dark room, menial jobs that would not keep a teenager in trainers."
One reason for this worry is the number of claimants who are wrongly failed disability benefits, over 80,000 a year according to a study carried out for the BBC. The Department of Work and Pensions has assured us that "There would of course continue to be an independent appeal available in order to ensure a consistency of treatment for all claimants.” This would be a positive claim except that the financial and emotional burden of appeals can be a massive drain on claimants. What is needed is an assessment process that gets it right first time, rather than relying on appeals.
All the indications are that there is going to be no funding to back up these reforms and the measures are no more than a cost cutting exercise. Simone Aspis said: "What the government thinks they are going to save on benefit will only be put onto the National Health Service with disabled people being forced into inappropriate work. The NHS will end up picking up the costs for disabled people to have unnecessary health care treatment simply due to impact of inappropriate work on disabled people’s health conditions."
On 4th December there will be a national demonstration in London and The Coalition Against the Welfare Reform Bill calls upon all people and organisations who support welfare reform rather than welfare destruction to be there.
Steve Blake said: "I could run a marathon on the 18th November 2001. On the 19th November 2001 I couldn’t. Didn’t know it was coming. Eight o’clock in the morning, got up for breakfast, had a run round the streets, got in my car, drove somewhere and got hit. And that could happen to anybody you know. You don’t have to be born blind or born with some other disability to be trapped by this, you can become trapped by circumstances you cannot control, that you have no control over. So the Welfare Reform Bill affects everybody you know. Everybody."