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.