“John McArdle of the Black Triangle Campaign told conference that there would be no economic necessity for the Government to introduce devastating cuts to the welfare state if it collected taxes owed by rich individuals and large companies, an amount which he said was worth £120 billion.”
Delegates at the TUC’s 2011 disability conference vow to fight the “vicious” and “savage” Government cuts hurting disabled people. Sunil Peck reports
As might be expected, trade unionists and other activists at the TUC’s annual disability conference in London queued up to lay into the “inhumane” medical assessments being carried out by the company Atos Healthcare.
They also lambasted the coalition Government for abolishing Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and cutting the Access to Work budget .
And delegates pledged solidarity with grassroots organisations like the Scottish welfare and benefit rights group Black Triangle and vowed to build on the alliances forged during the TUC’s march against the cuts and The Hardest Hit demo.
“It’s something a lot of us have been hoping would happen for years,” said Sean McGovern, Chair of the TUC’s disability committee when he spoke to Disability Now after the conference. “It’s about strength in numbers.”
Opening the event, the TUC’s assistant general secretary and Equality and Human Rights commissioner Kay Carberry (pictured) described the situation facing disabled people as a “moral outrage”.
She said: “It’s plain wrong that disabled people, their families and carers are suffering the worst consequences of a crisis that has nothing to do with them. The contrast couldn’t be starker: massive cuts for disabled people and massive bonuses for the bankers who caused this mess.”
Some delegates expressed hostility for Labour for its failure to stand up and defend disabled people. In spite of that, the disabled MP Anne Begg received a polite reception.
She told delegates that the coalition Government had succeeded in turning the arguments for greater equality against disabled people. “We said we wanted the right to work and the Government has said fine, we’ll declare you all fully fit to work. Large numbers of people who could work but need support are being declared fully fit to work, end up on Jobseeker’s Allowance and don’t get the specialist support they need.”
Saraka Keating from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy went on to explain to conference that employers were increasingly prepared to ignore their obligations to make reasonable adjustments.
“A disabled physiotherapist was transferred and the new employer refused to allow his guide dog on the premises. When the member pointed out that he was also a patient at the hospital and asked if they would also ban the dog when he presented at the hospital, they said no. They then added that if he couldn’t adapt to these new terms they would sack him.”
Mandy Hudson from the National Union of Teachers said she saw no need for any cuts to public sector services.
“These cuts take us back to the 19th century, when it was left to individual parishes to shunt disabled people from one place to another, and the creation of the deserving and undeserving poor which many of us resent very strongly.”
Another delegate who has vertigo, hypertension and depression said that she used to use Disability Living Allowance to pay for someone to accompany her from the front door of her flat and along a walkway to the lift to the ground floor. She said that she had lost her DLA after a review in October and now found it hard to leave home.
John McArdle of the Black Triangle Campaign told conference that there would be no economic necessity for the Government to introduce devastating cuts to the welfare state if it collected taxes owed by rich individuals and large companies, an amount which he said was worth £120 billion.
He told Disability Now, “I got a massive round of applause which went on for over a minute when I said that the union movement should pull the financial plug on Labour if it won’t defend our human rights, call for the end of the Work Capability Assessments and withdraw its support for welfare reform.”
That said, it’s highly unlikely that any union will actually sever its financial ties with Labour, but it will be interesting to see how effective the alliance between the unions and grassroots disability organisations is in challenging Government cuts and defending disability rights.