Disabled people occupy Westminster in protest against Government attacks
Disabled people and supporters opposing the closure of the Independent Living Fund (1) have occupied a site opposite Parliament in protest against government attacks on disabled people’s right to live in the community freely and with dignity.
At 4pm a group of around 100 ILF recipients and their supporters moved into a space in the grounds of Westminster Abbey to set up the occupation. Wheelchair users including Silent Witness actor Liz Carr have chained themselves to block the gates shut while an accessible campsite is erected complete with hoists and equipment. Disabled people intend to stay on the site and urge the government to re-open the Independent Living Fund and guarantee disabled people’s right to independent living. A letter has been sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury urging the church not to take action against the protestors.
The ILF is the subject of an ongoing battle between disabled people and the Government. In November 2013 the Court of Appeal quashed the Department for Work and Pension’s decision to close the Fund, citing the “grave detrimental impact” on exiting ILF recipients (2). In March 2014 Minister for Disabled People Mike Penning announced a new decision to close the ILF from June 2015. Under current proposals responsibility for fully meeting the support needs of disabled people will fall to already cash strapped local authorities (3). Since the closure of the ILF to new applicants in December 2010 disabled people who missed out on the Fund are living in isolation and without their basic needs being met.
Kevin Caulfield, an ILF recipient said, “Changes brought in by this government herald the end of independent living for disabled people and the return to a segregated society where disabled people are warehoused away. Ironically at a time when the public is up in arms about abuse in care homes, current government policy will return disabled people to exactly those places where we are most at risk of abuse. Disabled people fought hard over many years to fight our way out of the institutions to live and participate alongside our families and friends. We won’t go back. We will fight back.”
Ellen Clifford from Disabled People Against Cuts (4) who are supporting the occupation said, “The message from the government is that disabled people cost too much. But there’s enough money to bail out the banks or to pay millions to private companies to mess up our welfare system. Last year in the UK the super-rich increased their wealth while disabled people starved to death(5). Austerity is the choice our government of millionaires is making. Investing in a society where disabled people have equal access is the choice that we’re fighting for.”
Alison Playford from Occupy London, who are also supporting the action said, ““The devastation currently being visited upon disabled people in Britain is not the result of a broken system. The economic system works as intended – to exploit and punish the 99% while increasing the wealth and power of the 1%. The system that is attacking disabled people is the same system that is attacking migrants and low paid workers. It is the same system that caused the economic crisis and is destroying our natural environment. Members of the Occupy movement are taking action alongside Disabled People Against Cuts because we stand with all those who are building a society that services the wellbeing of people and the planet, not the accumulation of profit.”
Notes for editors
1) The Independent Living Fund was set up in 1988 to support disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently in the community.
4) Disabled People Against Cuts was set up in 2010 to oppose the disproportionate impact of the cuts on disabled people. Research by the Centre for Social Reform has shown that disabled people with the highest levels of support need are being hit nineteen times harder than the average person. http://www.centreforwelfarereform.org/library/by-date/ten-attacks-on-disabled-peoples-rights.html