Sunday, 29 January 2012
19:42 Mark Cantrell No comments
Kill the bill not the vulnerable, protestors demand
CAMPAIGNERS resisting the Government’s Welfare Reform Bill say their protest in London against “cruel and unnecessary cuts” was an “amazing success”, bringing the busy Oxford Circus to a “complete standstill”, but the resistance is far from over.
The numbers might seem small, but over 200 protestors nevertheless managed to make an impact – and their point – by crippling traffic flow around the target area.
At midday on Saturday, a group of wheelchair users from Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) chained themselves together in the middle of Regent Street, using handcuffs and bicycle locks. They were joined by some 200 people who had responded to a call by UK Uncut to show their support to the protest.
“The day has been an amazing success,” said Alex Logan, one of the protestors who answered the UK Uncut call. “Together we have shown that we are not going to take the cruel Welfare Reform Bill lying down. We will continue to work together to fight the bullying behaviour of the Government, which is choosing to make marginalized people’s lives a misery while continuing to let rich companies dodge £25 billion of tax each year.”
The location of the protest was not released in advance, but was communicated via Twitter at the ‘last minute’; UK Uncut supporters themselves gathered at Holborn station and then made their way to Oxford Circus. Among them were protestors from Occupy London and Black Triangle. Some of the people protesting on the day had come from as far afield as Manchester, Cornwall and Edinburgh to take part in the action.
The Welfare Reform Bill is “unfair, unnecessary and unpopular” say the protestors – and they want to see it scrapped.
Measures contained within the Welfare Reform Bill have proved controversial from the moment it was first proposed by the Government, and it has provoked disquiet, stinging rebuke, and a string of high-profile defeats in the House of Lords lately – as well as public protest such as this day’s action.
‘Fairness’ is a much-used word by Ministers defending the Bill, but many people – far removed from the world of street activism – have condemned the legislation. Despite the Lords’ defeats the Government says it will press on regardless once the legislation returns to the Commons – and pass the Bill through unchanged.
Around 500,000 people stand to lose their homes as a result of the changes. Others face the prospect of becoming ‘imprisoned’ within their own homes as a result of the loss of support. Nearly half a million would lose their Disability Living Allowance (DLA), including disabled children. People with terminal illnesses aren’t safe either and will be forced into work, and 3.2 million people are to be put through demanding – and demeaning – tests that have already drawn criticism for the skewed way they operate, declaring those too ill to work as ‘fit and able’.
According to the Government’s own research, the flagship legislation is expected to dump 100,000 children into poverty.
The Government says the country’s benefits bill has “spiralled out of control” and that it must cut the deficit to bring the nation’s finances back under control. Yet it does little to address the spiralling costs of rents, for example, which are bubbling upwards much the same as house prices prior to the credit crunch. This is compounded by low wages and a shortage of genuinely affordable housing, meaning that many people in work also need to claim Housing Benefit – business is booming for private landlords.
Tax-dodging by the super-rich is a much greater loss to the public purse, according to the protestors.
“Bankers are continuing to reap massive bonuses and over £25 billion is uncollected in taxes. We say that disable people should not be forced to pay the price of these austerity cuts,” said Cerys Williams, a DPAC supporter. “There are over £16 billion in unclaimed benefits and we have some of the lowest benefit levels in Europe. We question why this Government is forcing through further draconian cuts to the safety net of the welfare state on which all of us who are not millionaire politicians depend at some stage of our lives.”
Cheryl Thomson of UK Uncut added: “This bill is both cruel and unnecessary and is another example of a Government choosing to pick on marginalized and socially disadvantaged people, whilst continuing to let those who caused this crisis off the hook. The Government could collect at least £25 billion more each year if they were serious about cracking down on tax avoidance by rich companies and individuals – far more than will be saved by this Bill. Instead they are choosing to destroy the welfare state that has formed such an important part of our society for over 60 years. The campaign against the Welfare Reform Bill has been gaining momentum and together we can defeat it.”