On Saturday September 29, disability activists, the Very Rev. David Ison, the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the MP Michael Meacher and representatives of the Occupy movement held a protest in Parliament Square entitled “10,000 Cuts and Counting,” at which and John McDonnell MP and Louise Irvine, a GP and member of the British Medical Association (BMA) and the National Health Action Party, also spoke.
The event was described as “a ceremony of remembrance and solidarity for those who have had their lives devastated by the austerity programme, including more than 10,000 people who died shortly after undergoing the Atos Work Capability Assessment, the degrading test used by the government to assess the needs of people receiving benefits related to disability and ill health.”
In my many articles about the Tory-led government’s relentless and disgraceful assault on the disabled, I refer to the assessments as a process designed to find mentally and physically disabled people fit for work, when they are not, as it has been clear from the beginning that Atos has been hired not to conduct objective evaluations, but to cut financial support for disabled people on the orders of the government.
This was a powerful event, with white flowers strewn in front of the stage in memory of this who have died, and powerful speeches, and as part of the day’s events the Dean of St. Paul’s led a contingent of campaigners to 10 Downing Street to hand in “The Downing Street Demand,” calling for the Work Capability Assessment to be scrapped, and for assessments to be “brought back within the NHS so that disabled people and those responsible for managing their impairments, for instance their GPs, can make fair and compassionate decisions.”
Amongst the supporters of the event were the campaigners who launched the WOW Petition (the “War on Welfare” e-petition) to the British government in December 2010, which needs 100,000 signatures to be eligible for a Parliamentary debate. Please sign and share it if you’re a UK citizen or resident.
Below is the text of “The Downing Street Demand,” which was signed by the Very Reverend Dr David Ison, the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, Michael Meacher MP, campaigners on behalf of the WOW Petition, Disabled People Against Cuts and the Black Triangle Campaign, and Ian Chamberlain and Alison Playford of Occupy London.
Dear Prime Minister,
In 2010 you said, “I’m going to make sure no-one is left behind; that we protect the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.”
The reality of the austerity programme is the opposite. Since your government came to power, cuts have meant that disabled people are paying back 9 times more than non-disabled people and those with the highest support needs are paying back 19 times more. [See Dr. Simon Duffy, "A Fair Society: How the cuts target disabled people," p. 7].
Government policies affecting the mentally ill and disabled, including the WCA, the Bedroom Tax and the changes to DLA/PIP, mean that the disabled community is shouldering the heaviest burden of the national debt created by the super-rich. This cannot continue.
Here we tackle the first of these shameful offences. In 2011, 10,600 people died who had experienced the stress and humiliation of the Atos Work Capability Assessment [See DWP, "Incapacity Benefits: Deaths of recipients," p. 6] in the final period of their lives. 2,200 of this number died before the assessment was completed and 1,300 had been asked to return to work. We know from the large number of tribunals that decide in the claimant’s favour (almost 50%) that the WCA is not only stressful and humiliating but highly ineffective. The support needs of complex disabilities and mental health issues cannot be assessed by a tick-box system.
We agree with the British Medical Association which has demanded the end of the Work Capability Assessment “with immediate effect [to be] replaced with a rigorous and safe system that does not cause unavoidable harm.” We stand too with the 56,000 people who have signed the WOW petition in support of the same aim and their desire to see assessments brought back within the NHS so that disabled people and those responsible for managing their impairments, for instance their GPs, can make fair and compassionate decisions.
Please see below for a video of the event, entitled, “Human Cost,” produced by You and I Films.
In the run-up to the “10,000 Cuts and Counting” event, the Very Rev. David Ison, who presided over the funeral of Margaret Thatcher, told the BBC, “It’s right to stand in solidarity with people from many different organisations to draw attention to the needs of some of the most deprived members of our society. Many disabled people feel desperate facing possible cuts in support, the bedroom tax, and in particular an inflexible and failing work capability assessment scheme which can blight and even cut short their lives. The government needs to respond by enabling disabled people to live with dignity and security.”
The Daily Mirror also reported on the event. On September 18, Ros Wynne Jones wrote an article that began:
A year ago, the Very Reverend Dr. David Ison was leading Evensong at St Paul’s Cathedral when four women dressed in white chained themselves to the pulpit. Marking the first anniversary of Occupy London’s eight-month encampment on the steps of the Cathedral, they called on the Church to “throw the money changers out of the temple”.
Fast forward a year, and an extraordinary thing is happening. As the second anniversary of the Occupy protest at St Paul’s approaches, both sides are working together to highlight the toxic effects of the government’s welfare reforms.
One of the women once chained to the pulpit, Alison Playford, is speaking animatedly to Rev Ison, the Dean of St Paul’s. “We always knew there was common ground between the Occupy movement and the Church on tackling poverty,” says Rev Ison. “And we are all agreed that what is happening to people with disabilities has to stop now.”
On the day Ros Wynne Jones met Rev. Ison and the campaigners, the Prime Minister “had welcomed yet more draconian measures to crack down on benefit fraud — jail sentences of up to 10 years,” prompting Rev. Ison to ask, “Where are the sentences being given out for defrauding bankers?”
He also stated, “It’s the role of the Church to build community in an era when people are very individualistic, and that’s what I see happening in the protest movement too. Caring for people should be right at the top of everyone’s agenda.”
As Ros Wynne Jones noted, he then looked up towards the dome of St Paul’s, and said, “We all need to ask ourselves, ‘would we want to be treated like that?’ Most of us will experience disability at some point in our lives. It’s not us and them. It’s us.”
I couldn’t agree more. This is indeed about all of us, and I don’t want to be a part of a country that thinks it is acceptable to treat its most vulnerable members in such a disgraceful manner.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
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When I posted the article on Facebook, I wrote:
Here are my photos of Saturday’s powerful “10,000 Cuts & Counting” protest in Parliament Square, to commemorate the 10,000+ disabled people who have died since going through the horrendous and unjust assessments run by Atos, which are designed to find disabled people fit for work, whether they are or not. Thanks to everyone who cares about this ongoing injustice.
Rick B TenPercent wrote:
Excellent! And was great to see you there Andy Worthington you really are one of the good guys!
Thanks, Rick. A great pleasure to see you again, and to meet Jane and Wayne as well. You’ve been doing such great work promoting the WOW petition. Hope to see you in London again soon. Send me the date.
And in the meantime, friends, please sign and share the petition if you haven’t already (sorry, UK citizens and residents only): http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/43154
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I just shared this.
Thanks, George. Much appreciated. It was, frankly, disappointing that there were not thousands and thousands of people at the event, but it was reassuring that the Dean of St. Paul’s was playing such a prominent role, and it’s particularly reassuring, of course, that the British public seem to be finally waking up to what’s going on through widespread opposition to the bedroom tax.
Why should the disabled and poor pay the most because the bankers messed up? The sooner this government and their little yellow Lib Dem friends are gone the better.
Thanks, Thomas. Yes, I agree wholeheartedly, and I hope that the general election in 2015 will be the end for this cruel government. It has been horrible to see so many people not only ignoring the crimes committed by the thieves in the City and Canary Wharf, but also falling for the cynical diversionary tactics of politicians and the media, shifting the focus onto the weakest and most vulnerable instead. Watching my fellow citizens getting worked up about scroungers and immigrants has been a low point in my experience of life in Britain, and I hope to see it come to an end.
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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