As I am in the tower of word, to half steal a line from Leonard Cohen, I am letting my good friend Gabriel Pepper have his say here today, in the form of a speech he did for his local DPO, where he is Campaigns Officer.
Gabriel is a powerhouse of political activism, from going on actions, to constant online work. It is central to his life now as he sees what we are fighting for.
I politicised Gabriel over the years we were together. I am very proud of him, and hope you will take heart from his impassioned words.
"......The next three years represents the most important years ever in the history of the fight for disability rights in UK. Yet we and disabled people in the past have fought hard for benefits, DLA, independent living, a semblance of equality and transport and now, what is happening?
The UK has a severe problem, because we have a government that has done its best to destroy the welfare state. This government has totally ignored everything disabled people have said, but for instance, have just ploughed ahead with the appalling Welfare Reform Bill and Legal Aid Bill.
I regard these as an act of right wing fascism by a tiny minority of extremely rich people, who do not care at all about the misery they will cause. It’s all about money to them, and most disappointingly they have used the British public against disabled people, influencing the media - resulting in propaganda and endless TV and newspapers crammed with bogus statistics.
Friends of mine, even my father, have been saying that the measures are needed because we cost too much, and I have told each one that they have been fed a lie.
One thing the Tories love to do is to blame the poor for being poor, indeed the government have effectively declared war on disabled people. Therefore if I can reiterate the words of Winston Churchill - “I have nothing to offer you but blood, toil, tears and sweat”, in the same grim spirit of defiance.
Let me tell you what I foresee, because it needs spelling out. Part of the problem is that the government have no clue about being disabled and getting benefits.
These people may believe that disabled people will find jobs, in a job environment where there is none. They have also made it nearly impossible to get legal aid, so the awful decisions made by ATOS (the company which throws people off benefits) will stand. There will be no appeals.
At the same time as this we have a top to tail reorganisation of the NHS, due to a bill forced through, no one was allowed to see the risk register. Let me be clear. This bill was detested, every medical professional was against it. Its only necessity was money and the ideological need to destroy the welfare state.
Let’s not forget the now infamous and hypocritical words of George Osbourne, when referring to the Welfare state - 'we are all in this together' – and the empty promises of ring fencing NHS funds.
The government have set in motion a care catastrophe, which will mean that countless people will suddenly be unsupported in multiple ways. With nowhere to turn, without being able to get meds for illnesses, they will descend, in critical states, on the NHS A&E unit and the like, which will be unable to take this strain.
There will be some people who become desperate. Those people will do acts like setting fire to themselves in public, and already two people have. Everywhere there will be people dying. All over UK there is a fine network of care, everyone knows someone who is disabled. We can only hope there will be a tipping point, an outcry from this network AND ourselves, after which there will be a huge vote of no confidence in the government. We must work with all our allies in this sector to lobby for this to happen, pushing home the reality of what is coming our way
There are many examples of this government’s dangerous ignorance and brutality. One is the new PIP, which everyone who gets DLA will have four weeks to claim for. If individuals are unable to respond for practical reasons, or are distressed by the process itself, then it appears they will be cut off from benefit support, something which will particularly hit people with mental health issues.
It must be said though, that this is if the new computer system which has a laughably huge cost to process all this, does work. Signs are that it is not expected to.
To rub salt into the wound the government have also enforced an awful scheme called workfare, where they expect people to be exploited by rich companies without being paid, most famously recently with the jubilee stewards. Studies have shown there is no evidence that more people will find work, it is an attack on the poor and unemployed.
A harsh part of this scheme is benefit sanctions, which can be for as long as three months. Meanwhile the operators of workfare schemes have been defrauding the government for as much as £40 million pounds. I said to my disability activist friend the other day, 'how do they expect us to find work, when there is none'. She said, 'they don't expect you to find work. They expect you to die dear'.
The government has shown several things already. First they have shown an extraordinary degree of incompetence, taking UK into an unnecessary recession, doing 35 U turns, and repeatedly turning out toxic policies. The Tories have become associated with toxic policies, and this will eventually destroy them. When the tipping point is reached and the laws are revoked, we will at last be able to move forward.
One result that these attacks have achieved is that they have brought disabled people together. To fight these vicious attacks, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) have been organised, and I am a member too. DPAC have been joined by the Scottish group, Black Triangle, UK uncut, Boycott Workfare and Socialist Worker along with a host of smaller organisations.
The fact that disabled people have now become more political has now mobilised the Labour party, particularly John Cruddas, who I think will be a key figure in the fight to save the Independent Living Fund.
Regular demonstrations are being held, the next is on 28th July, when Counter Olympics is running a March starting from Mile End. DPAC is anti-Olympics because of the Tory ideology connected with the games, and their disturbing use of ATOS for sponsorship. Boycott Workfare hold regular demonstrations, indeed I took part in one in Walthamstow in January 2012, a month in which I was also chained up in Regent Street as part of a direct action organised by UK Uncut. To finish, I want to paraphrase some lines written by UK uncut:
When everything you have is systematically taken away, why not make a stand? When your voice is taken away, why not shout from the roof tops? When you look over your shoulder at the privileged, protected from this mess by their ability to bypass public services through flexing their financial muscles, why not get angry?
There’s nothing left to lose. Welfare, health, social care, support funding, voluntary sector, housing, legal aid... there isn’t anything this government won’t dismantle or sell to the lowest bidder.
The deal you thought you had with the state has been broken. You were led to believe that … money would be used to build a society built on fairness and equality. You believed if your circumstances changed, you would be supported; and your children, your parents, your friends.
Instead, your money funds private moats, duck ponds and an Olympics which will break the financial backs of those who are least welcome at it – us......"
I will be back soon myself. I'm fighting with every word I commit to the page.
The sun is out, I have a new garden to play with (huh, for now) and my mood is a tad better. I’ve been in the wilderness of serious ill health and dealing with the consequences of that. But I’m coming back into the throng, slowly. The Abnormally Funny People gig was good, though laid me low for awhile. I am maybe a little more scarred at the edges that’s all. Scars inside and out, and ones I wear with honour.
I feel many of us will be battle scarred by the end... Today I attended a consultation run by my very excellent DPO, regarding the change from DLA to PiP, which the crypto-fascist government intends to force upon us. I had read summaries of the changes but here was the vile reality laid bare in much more detail. And that reality left me incredulous and afraid. For myself and for us all. We really are teetering on the brink of being forced back into being the crippled, mad, sick undeserving poor of a workhouse era. The stick to beat us must be hard and punitive. We must suffer. How dare we be who we are and scrounge.
In my view PiP is an instrument consciously designed to fail, to help us on our way to early and money saving death. It is ghastly in its cheek, a weak pretender of progress in the form of a terrifying executioner. However, I am also struck that this murderous proposition is so unworkable and unsustainable that it cannot in the end succeed. I hope. Yet I fear there will be a lot of pain before that is realised. Pain and lives destroyed; lives lost. Which is exactly what they want.
My glimmer of hope struggles on from realising how many people this change will effect. I believe it will be millions. The ConDem devils are not interested in ‘real’ disabled people, in our lived lives. The ideas within PiP give evidence to that. We are the scapegoats of the national debt and we are considered a soft target. But with us comes those around us. Carers, paid workers, families. Disabled children with outraged parents. Elderly disabled people with outraged offspring. It goes on and on, a tree of ramification and consequence we MUST utilise.
My mum received Attendence Allowance for me when I was young – the precursor of DLA. It was essential to her in multiple ways the ConDems cannot possible imagine in their rich boy wallet bulging dreams. But mums and dads will be angered. Daughters and sons will be angered at the imposition of PiP. With more to come… so let's grab hold of this!
WE must all be angry. We must speak out, come forward, be counted. A few people said to me about the consultation process: "isn’t this pointless, they’ll do what they want anyway?" Perhaps they will, but we must fight in whatever way we can. For me this is through my work, my words, always, within the boundaries of my impairments and the barriers we face every day.
I will NOT go gentle into that good night! Now, back to the garden, while I can.
Tonight I am doing an Open Mic slot with Jo on cello at the Apples and Snakes for women. I believe the lovely Liz Bentley is MC-ing too. Liz is a joy to watch and experience if you ever get the chance.
I hope we can spin a little magic for the audience too. If you're in the area do come long. I know I'm rubbish at letting people know in advance but sometimes these things spring up. It's in Brick Lane, East London - in the trendy Vibe Bar - ooo get us. Come along if you can.
Meanwhile in daily grind of life, I find I am caught up in nightmares of bureaucracy gone as Gaga as Lady. Gaga can be great, but in this this sense, it is the thoughtless, uncaring and indifferent kind.
I'm scarcely coherent as I slop around in my PJs, threatened with eviction and debt - because people stop being fully human, and are not doing what they are meant to do. And oh, pardon me! Because I don't fit in a box, and so, they can't tick a box to make their lives easier, I am carolled into a no-win situation. You all know it well. Forms and more forms. Proof of your worthiness. Proof of your poverty. Proof of your crippledness, I've even been told to 'give up work because it's 'easier'.
I'd like to know if any artist has done this. Decided that the fight against the system, no matter if a cliche, is real enough. I have multiple impairments including some heavy health conditions. Yet I can write and speak from my bed if need be. Mainstream view cannot compute such a notion.
Stuff happens that's good. Modelled for Tanya Raabe again - see photo. Will blog on that anon. Novel creeps closer to finish, poems get written. Going for an AC development grant. But all threatened by the other stuff.
Tips for emotional survival, anyone?