Approximately 5,000 disabled people, their families and friends have today marched through central London to warn the government that public spending cuts will push disabled people over the edge.
Many travelled by coach and by train from as far a field as Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the south west to take part in what is being hailed the biggest gathering of disabled people in the UK ever.
The demonstrators marched from Victoria Embankment, to the Houses of Parliament waving banners and brandishing placards with slogans such as "Blame Banks Not Disabled People" and "Don't Leave Me Stranded".
Alex from Wolverhampton travelled to London to attend the march and to meet his MP Emma Reynolds. As a student who's fearful about losing his Disability Living Allowance (DLA), he's worried about whether he can afford to go to college. He also faces losing his bus pass in September because of local funding cuts.
Carol from the Westminster Society for People with Learning Disabilities was among a group of campaigners all concerned about the future of DLA. "The Disability Living Allowance is essential and without it we simply wouldn't be able to afford the additional costs of disability."
Ken, who has sight problems, travelled to London from Dudley with his wife, who has multiple disabilities. He said: "If the changes go through, we'll lose our home and my wife will have to go into a care home."
Sally Bercow, who was at the front of the march and whose eldest son is autistic, said: "It was a real privilege to be here and I very much hope that this Coalition Government will not go through with cuts that will impact on disabled people, their benefits and services."
Gerry Hart (Darlington Association on Disability), Mark Harrison (Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People), Kirsten Hearn (Chair of Inclusion London), Jane Asher, Dame Anne Begg MP, Chair of Work and Pensions Select Committee and MP Liam Byrne, Shadow Secretary of State, for Work and Pensions spoke out at a rally before the march.
Gerry Hart said: "They are making disabled people pay for a crisis that is not of their making."
Dame Anne Begg MP, Chair of Work and Pensions Select Committee, who spoke at a rally before the march, said: "There are thousands here. But there are thousands more people that couldn't be here and you were all representing them."
Liam Byrne MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said:
"There was a huge turnout. There's a real depth of people furious that government welfare reform plans are about to descend into chaos. People agree that the welfare bill needs to come down but we should do that by getting people into jobs not by pushing them into poverty."
Minister for Disabled People, Maria Miller MP, declined an invitation to speak at the rally and meet some of the 5,000 disabled people who attended.
After the demonstration protesters met with their MPs to lobby them on cuts vital benefits and services. Some two thousand people were hoping to meet an MP.
The march was organised jointly by the UK Disabled People's Council and the Disability Benefits Consortium. It brought together individuals and over 40 organisations, plus celebrities and politicians (see below).
Jaspal Dhani, CEO of the United Kingdom Disabled People's Council, said:
"Today London hosted one of the biggest protests ever by disabled people, their families and friends against the cuts. It was a great success and we'd like to thank everyone who was involved. It's now up to the Government to listen to what we are saying: stop the cuts."
Twelve months ago the Coalition promised "to introduce arrangements that will protect those on low incomes from the effect of public sector pay constraint and other spending constraints" (1) Coalition agreement.
As the Government marks its first anniversary, far from being protected, disabled people and their families are already hundreds of millions worse off and face a further barrage of cuts in the coming years (2) Demos.
Disabled people are more likely to be on low incomes and are more vulnerable to financial shocks (3) DWP.
But research shows that in 2011 alone disabled people find themselves hundreds of millions worse off (4) Demos.
Then in the coming years disabled people face a raft of reforms which will have a significant impact on their quality of life.
These include major changes to benefits such as Disability Living Allowance and cutbacks to public services, which will affect opportunities for disabled people to live independently.
Overall research forecasts that disabled people face a drop in their income of over £9 billion during this Parliament (5) Demos.
The Hardest Hit coalition calls on the Government to:
- Scrap plans to cut Disability Living Allowance, a vital benefit that enables disabled people to live independently.
- Make sure Employment and Support Allowance, which replaces Incapacity Benefit, has a fair and effective assessment process, does its job and supports disabled people.
- Stop cuts to services that are essential to disabled people's quality of life, such as day care, transport and respite care services.