Thousands protest UK budget cuts

Photo of Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron

More than 5,000 people protested in 14 different cities across the United Kingdom on Saturday, in response to the government’s upcoming overhaul of the country’s services for people with disabilities.

The protests were organized by more than 50 disability advocacy groups and charities, united under the banner of the “The Hardest Hit” campaign. This was the second major protest by the consortium, following a protest of more than 8,000 individuals in May in what was considered the largest disability protest in the nation’s history.

“The proposed cuts have brought together disability charities and organizations of people with disabilities into a single united force where previously we’ve had a difficult relationship with differences on policy and ideology,” said Steve Winyard, co-chairman of the Hardest Hit campaign.

The protesters listed a number of demands for Prime Minister David Cameron’s coalition, whose plan could result in reduced services for almost two million people.

They want to ensure that changes to the Disability Living Allowance don’t result in hundreds of thousands of people losing benefits. The government plans to replace the DLA, which currently provides benefits to more than 1.8 million individuals, with a Personal Independence Payment by 2013, in an effort to increase the system’s flexibility and cut its budget by 20 percent.

The protesters also called for the government to reverse its decision to end mobility payments. The payments, which provide up to £50 a month for about 80,000 people with disabilities, cover the costs of wheelchairs, taxis and other forms of transportation that allow individuals to live independently in their homes.

Another target for the protesters was the government’s plan to tighten the eligibility of its incapacity benefits with a new employment and support allowance, for workers unable to work.

A government spokesman defended the budget cuts, saying that the cuts are part of a plan to return more than 35,000 people with disabilities back to the workforce and that the government is still committed to provide efficient services, at both the national and local levels.

On Friday, the disability advocacy group Scope released a report estimating that the change from the DLA to the Personal Independence Payment will save almost £1 billion less than the government’s estimations, further raising concerns that the government will continue cutting services beyond its initial plans.

“We are concerned that the new assessment the government is planning to use is flawed because it doesn’t take into consideration all the barriers that disabled people face in daily life,” said Richard Hawkes, chief executive of Scope, in an article in the Guardian. “Without understanding the extent of barriers people face, the government has no hope to overcome them and genuinely enable people to take part in daily life.”