By John Pring Disability News Service 14th June 2017
Disabled activists have reacted with a mixture of anger, resignation and optimism to a general election that saw the Conservatives lose their parliamentary majority.
Some believe that a resurgent Labour party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, which defied mainstream media opposition and polling predictions to increase its number of MPs by 30, will inevitably form the next government.
Others have reacted with horror at the idea of a minority Tory government being propped up by 10 MPs from Northern Ireland’s “anti-equalities” Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
And some have said they expect little to change with the government’s disability policies, following seven years of austerity that have seen attacks on disability rights and inclusion, and cuts to disabled people’s services and benefits.
Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) announced yesterday (Wednesday) that it was calling on Deaf and disabled people and their organisations to boycott engagement with any government involving the DUP.
The grassroots network said in a statement: “Collusion with an anti-equalities party who openly oppose women’s right to choose and gay marriage while denying climate change is nothing less than shameful. Disabled people must be united in resisting the politics of hate.”
DPAC said the Conservatives were now “in chaos and cannot credibly remain in government”, and added: “Now is the best chance since 2010 to end a government that has carried out a regime of conscious cruelty against disabled people and systematically and deliberately dismantled our rights.”
In contrast, DPAC welcomed the progress the Labour party had made since the last election in improving its disability policies.
It said Labour had made “firm commitments to the issues that Deaf and Disabled people have been fighting to achieve for years such as enshrining our rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in domestic legislation, working with Disabled people to develop a national system of social care, and scrapping out-sourced benefit assessments”.
Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of the national servicer-user and disabled people’s network Shaping Our Lives, said he believed there had been a “sea change” in UK politics and that it was now inevitable that Jeremy Corbyn would eventually lead a new government as prime minister because Theresa May’s government was “running on empty” and “no longer has a point to its existence as it has had to abandon its manifesto”.
He said that a Corbyn-led government would “return to the best principles of the post-war welfare state and will fight for the rights of disabled people – as was clear in its manifesto.
“It may still have to catch up on progressive approaches to mental health issues, but at last there is hope for all of us.”
Disabled researcher Catherine Hale, a member of the Spartacus online network, was also encouraged by the “resurgent Labour party” that had “comprehensively ditched its toxic legacy of welfare reforms which cast suspicion on sick and disabled people”.
She said: “Under [shadow work and pensions secretary] Debbie Abrahams, Labour has listened and its manifesto promises for disabled people are a cause for celebration.”
But she warned that sanction rates had nearly trebled under the government’s new universal credit benefit – compared with rates under jobseeker’s allowance – while the “dehumanising personal independence payment (PIP) regime and social care cuts are taking away disabled people’s lifeline to society on a daily basis”.
She said disabled people were still being “terrorised” by the “unfair” work capability assessment, which – since April – has been consigning new claimants of employment and support allowance placed in the work-related activity group to “destitution and despair” because of a £30-a-week cut imposed by the Conservative government.
She called on Labour to be a “loud and clear champion of disabled people”, and added: “Our fortunes ride with theirs.”
Disabled researcher Stef Benstead, also from the Spartacus Network, said she believed the Conservative government would have to make compromises, and that it was unlikely that “anything on the right-wing economically would get through” parliament, because it would be opposed by both DUP and the more centrist Tory MPs.
Mark Harrison, chief executive of Equal Lives, said he would not believe the suggestion reported in some newspapers that Theresa May had signalled that “austerity was dead” until he had seen some firm evidence.
He said: “Until we see differently, there is no reason to believe that the new Tory government will behave any differently to the last one and the coalition.
“Austerity is very much alive in Norfolk, with the council making huge cuts to adult social care, disabled people being sanctioned, having their PIP assessments and losing entitlement and their Motability vehicles, becoming homeless, not being able to access mental health services, and now being charged huge sums of money to pay for their care.
“Waiting lists are getting longer in the hospitals and disabled children are being excluded from mainstream (academy) schools.
“Actions speak louder than words and we don’t trust the Tories based on the last seven years of brutality.”
John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said he believed it would be “business as usual” in the Department for Work and Pensions, even though the government should see the election result as “a signal to the Conservative party that half the country finds their policies on social security absolutely unacceptable”.
He said: “It is incumbent on the opposition parties to turn up the heat on the government over the systematic abuse of human rights, as documented by the UNCRPD.
“We will continue to shine a spotlight on the government’s wrongdoing and raise our voices in opposition consistently until such time as the government desists from destroying disabled people’s lives and turns back from the grave abuses of our human rights.”