Disabled people hold nationwide protests against cuts

Protesters holding banners in Norwich
Image caption About 300 people marched in Norwich in protest at government spending cuts

Disabled people have held protests across the UK against government spending cuts.

Organisers of the Hardest Hit campaign said rallies took place at 14 places from Brighton to Edinburgh.

Protesters object to benefit changes, including cuts in disability living allowance, and local service cutbacks.

Ministers say the welfare system is currently failing people and that reforms will see benefits go to those who need them.

The protests, organised by the UK Disabled People's Council and the Disability Benefits Consortium, follow on from a demonstration in May in central London.

The events took place one year after the government's comprehensive Spending Review, in cities including London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Nottingham and Manchester.

Protesters at the events carried messages of support sent by disabled peopled who cannot attend in person, organisers say.

Steve Winyard, co-chairman of the Hardest Hit coalition, says the "one single achievement" of disability minister Maria Miller is that she has united the disability movement.

He said: "The proposed cuts have brought together disability charities and disabled people's organisations into a single united force where previously we've had a difficult relationship with differences on policy and ideology."

Fellow chairman Jaspal Dhani said the government had broken its promise to protect disabled people from spending cuts.

"The last 12 months have seen a string of cuts that have hit disabled people the hardest, from benefits changes to local authorities slashing social care budgets and axing concessionary bus passes.

"Disabled people can't be squeezed any further, that is why so many of us will be joining the Hardest Hit protests in cities across the country and online."

More than 300 people took to the streets of Norwich to protest at the potential cuts.

Stuart Thompson, a campaign manager for the charity Mencap, took part in the rally. He said: "These benefits are going to have a huge affect on people's lives.

"Disabled people are already one of the most disenfranchised people in society.

"If these cuts go through then people who are already isolated, vulnerable and disenferanchised-things can only get worse for them."

Demonstrators called on ministers to:

  • ensure changes to disability living allowance - which helps many to live independently - do not make disabled people worse off
  • make sure employment and support allowance, the successor to incapacity benefit, has a fair assessment, does its job and supports disabled people
  • stop cuts to services which are essential to disabled people's quality of life, such as day care, transport and respite care services
  • make sure that the welfare system supports people with the additional costs of living with a disability.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said the government was "absolutely committed" to supporting disabled people and would spend "more than £40bn a year on disabled people and their services".

Work drive

He said: "However the current benefit system is not always reaching those who need it most, which is why we are introducing the new personal independence payment to ensure people get the right levels of support.

"And our reforms are more than just changes to benefits. The Sayce Review is looking at how we can use the protected budget for disability employment services more effectively, to get an extra 35,000 disabled people into work."

He added that the government was aware that local council spending care is under pressure and will provide an extra £7.2bn over the next four years to local authorities to help protect services.

"We also know that social care needs urgent reform and that is why the coalition government acted quickly to establish the Commission on Funding Care and Support, chaired by Andrew Dilnot. Now that he has completed his report, we have started an engagement exercise ahead of a Social Care White Paper in the spring," he said.

Organisers say the Hardest Hit campaign is supported by some 40 charities and organisations including Scope, Leonard Cheshire Disability, Mencap, the RNIB and Sense.

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