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Friday, 23rd March 2018

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The Cuts Are Affecting Disabled People, But Only We Can Shape Our Future

This is a guest post from Matt Bond who sits on the NUS NEC as the Disabled Students’ Campaign 2nd place rep.

Fifteen months ago as the Tory-led government took office I remember sitting in the living room of my old flat shuddering, thinking about what would lay ahead for disabled people. I knew of course the assurances that were coming out of the mouths of Cameron and other assorted Tory malcontents about making sure the most vulnerable in society would be protected from the cuts was nothing but bile.

But being a young disabled person who had grown up mainly under Labour and had, till then, only been a politically disabled person under Labour, I don’t think I had a full grasp of how bad things would actually be. I knew that Labour hadn’t got everything right; the DDA had a lot of loopholes that put architecture and business interests before accessibility and equality. Contrary to the ‘benefits bonanza’ that was apparently going on according to the Daily Mail and other various moribund news ‘sources’ the restrictions on benefits, I believe, were quite harsh and often left disabled people on the poverty line or without having their needs met.

However, fast-forward to now under the Tories and look at what is upon us. The abject targeting of disabled people in the right-wing press by the government and their hyenas over how much wretched money we cost and the rise in disability hate crime this has caused. A hairdresser shaved ‘fool : )’ into the head of a man with learning difficulties and I even saw a Daily Mail article that said disabled people should stop reporting ‘harmless fun’ as hate crime as it was ‘self-indulgent’. Words fail me at this.

But what I have also seen is the galvanisation of the disability rights movement which had started to fade away as the fight for accessible transport had (sort of) been won and things were getting better for disabled people. With the return of the Tories, disabled people have sprung back into action. The Hardest Hit Campaign, despite been funded and led by SCOPE and Leonard Cheshire, has been a relatively high profile campaign that has brought the issues facing disabled people in this time of austerity out of the homes of disabled people and onto the streets of cities across the UK.

Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) is another campaign that has formed in response to the cuts facing disabled people. Except it was formed by disabled people themselves without the patronising leadership of non-disabled lead charities mentioned above. DPAC have picketed ATOS offices all over the country in fury over the company being brought in to administer a new harsh, savage and unfair reform to the benefits system. The changes mean all disabled people on benefits will be reassessed under new rules which have seen people with terminal cancer and multiple sclerosis deemed fit for work.

We must, and are, fighting against this as this represents an abhorrent attack on disabled people’s lives by the government and for some disabled people it represents an existential crisis where some people may be put in the position where they do not have enough money to survive. Four people have already committed suicide since having their benefits removed from them by ATOS and the government.

Change has also been seen in the NUS Disabled Students Campaign. For the first time in a fair few years the Officer election in March at Disabled Students Conference will be contested by myself from the committee and Hannah Paterson from the University of Manchester. But the change can also be seen in how the campaign delivers on its mandate. I feel as though I have had at least a small impact on this – the campaign has now started to embrace direct action and will be working with Disability Direct Action Network to help deliver activist training over the coming months. I have been and will be representing the campaign at Anti-ATOS protests, Hardest Hit Protests, the TUC protest and the student demonstrations, such as on November 9th. There is still a way to go before the campaign is one that will readily take direct action to achieve its goals but it is getting there, there is, I feel, the political will in the make-up of the campaign for this to happen and I believe it will.

Disabled people have never had a single defining emancipatory moment I don’t believe, other liberation groups have had their Suffragettes or their Stonewall riot or their Rosa Parks – we have not had anything as iconic as that. I feel we need to have that moment so that society really starts to take our movement seriously. I hope that time is soon for all our sakes.

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