On Saturday the 14th of May, we witnessed the obscene spectacle of relatively well-heeled people marching through London in support of the coalition’s program of cuts and austerity and “against the national debt.”
No matter that the size of the demonstration was only estimated at between 100 and 400 people. The ‘news’ was carried by every news organisation in the country. If only disability rights activists could attract such attention. We have frequently staged demonstrations of that size and been completely ignored by the media.
This week was different.
On Wednesday, we witnessed the ‘Hardest Hit’ march in which people with every kind of disability made it to London to protest against the inhumane policies of this coalition towards the sick and disabled citizens of the UK.
It took place against a backdrop of a disabled activists’ ‘National week of Protest against ATOS Origin Healthcare Ltd’ in towns and cities across the UK
ATOS offices were picketed in every part of the country, in Edinburgh and Glasgow and from London to Liverpool and Brighton to Newcastle. ATOS’s office in Cambridge was occupied overnight by 40 protesters.
Demands were issued, both to the British Medical Association in Scotland and London for the medical profession to to boycott ATOS assessments and condemn them as unethical and incompatible with the high standards which the medical profession espouses, not least the principle to first “do no harm”.
ATOS are the private company who carry out the unjust “Work Capability Assessments” for the DWP. Hundreds of thousands of disabled people are currently being “reassessed” under this régime with the effect that seriously ill individuals, many with cancer and serious neurological disorders are being declared “fit for work” against the advice of their GP’s and Consultants’.
The 45 minute tick-box interview is designed to deny the reality of an individual’s impairment or disability. Disability is being redfined in these assessments. For example, if a person can pick up a pen or “mobilise” ten feet across the room in a wheelchair they are reclassified as fit to work, their benefits are summarily cut and they are, in effect, told to get out and get a job.
If only it were so easy. If only it were merely even possible. These policies kill. They are driving multitudes into abject poverty and despair. They have killed disabled people and will kill again, all in the name of reducing the national debt against which yesterday’s Barbour-wearing toffs marched.
Jane Asher, actor and president of the Arthritis Council, National Autistic Society and Parkinson’s UK said of Wednesday’s protest “This is the largest rally of disabled people in living memory, and that’s something to be proud of – at the same time, it is very sad that it has come to this.”
Dino Goldie, 33, who traveled by train from Bath to London for the demonstration to express his indignation at the “Work Capability Assessments” said “Research by the RNIB shows that 9 out of 10 employers say they would not employ someone with visual impairment. We are being punished for not being able to find work.”
Can you imagine this? This is going on right here, right now, in 21st century Britain, right in front of us, in your towns and your cities at a rate of 12,000 a week since the mass roll-out of the WCA began on the 1st of April.
Yet very few people have even heard of ATOS or realise the reality or the magnitude of what is going on and being done in their name. It seems unbelievable, doesn’t it? But it’s real. We have been screaming and shouting about it since poet and writer Paul Reekie of Edinburgh took his own life last June after an ATOS assessment.
We are only now beginning to get media coverage and the platform we need to convince the wider public that this scandal is going on and has to be stopped.
Until now, these fantastic injustices have been taking place in an atmosphere of impunity for the perpetrators and a sense of complete abandonment for the unfortunate victims.
Disabled people have experienced this for many years: not only being ignored but being scapegoated. We are united in our resolve to militantly oppose it in each and every time and place that it rears its ugly head.
We are telling the coalition’s thugs that we demand our full human rights as disabled people. NOT their ‘charity’. Our campaign slogan is “Disabled People Fighting for Our Future: Custodians of our Past.” We are grass roots disability rights activists engaged in the work of protest and direct action against our oppressors and, equally importantly, in the education of young people and the wider society on disability history and human rights issues.
In modern British history, disability rights activists have had to fight tooth and nail for every incremental improvement in their status and living conditions as equal members of our society.
George Osborne and the coalition seek to do away with all these advances in one fell swoop as they implement their “welfare reform” and compulsory “work program”.
We are told that there is simply “no money left”. This, against a backdrop of £120 billion pound in the unpaid tax gap owed by corporations to the exchequer.
UK Uncut have done a magnificent job in highlighting the injustice of high street companies that pay little or no tax back into our communities.
According to the Sunday Times Rich List, £85 billion is the combined wealth of 10 of the richest 11 people people in Britain, all of whom qualify for “non-dom” tax status. £0.0005 billion is the total combined fee that they pay annually to keep their offshore income tax-free after Osborne told them they should “pay something in return for their special tax status.”
For all of UK Uncut’s efforts and success in capturing the public’s imagination, these facts have again conveniently been swept under the carpet as the narrative of the juggernaut of the coalition’s cuts agenda rolls mercilessly on.
The truth is that all of these (very rich) men are engaged in a dangerous game of options and futures speculation and the futures and options they are speculating on are ours.
70% of the people of the UK did not vote for this coalition’s economic shock doctrine, fewer still here in Scotland. Our campaign fights not just against the coalition’s welfare ‘reform’ policies for the disabled and the henchmen at ATOS who take do their bidding. We also fight to unite all of civil society in rejecting outright the all-out concerted attack on everything that’s civilised and decent about this society.
Common human values of love, compassion and respect. These values which bind us together in concern for each other and, most especially, for all those who, through no fault of their own, find themselves to be most disadvantanged by a society where the dominant ideology is the Darwinian one of ‘survival of the fittest’.
Let us together reject outright this market fundamentalism which assesses human worth by a cold calculation of the profit or loss we represent. We must stand up against the slogans “Disabled people are all scroungers!” and ”There is No Alternative!”. These are both pernicious lies that insult our intelligence.
Reject them both. There is a better way. Join us in fighting for it.
John McArdle is a member of the Black Triangle Anti-Defamation Campaign in Defence of Disability Rights