On the 30th November David Cameron was booed as he came on stage to turn on the Witney Christmas Lights. You can watch a very funny video of him trying to drown out any criticism by awkwardly getting the crowd to cheer everyone from themselves to the Queen below. When there’s some background heckling during the countdown he appeals to the crowd to “come on, shout louder!”
Kind of funny. Also, kind of not funny. I find it very weird watching the video, because while this was going on I was being beaten up by the police on the other side of the stage. I have never been so scared. My face was being pushed into the ground, I could feel blood coming from my nose, there was someone putting their whole weight on my back while someone else was stamping on my knees, along with various people grabbing and twisting my limbs. And then the officer on my back moved a knee up onto the back of my neck. Up until then I’d been shouting “I’m not resisting, I’m cooperating,” trying to ask them to stop, but from the moment I felt someone pressing their body weight into the back of my neck I gave up trying to communicate anything to them, I realised the police officers on top of me either couldn’t or wouldn’t hear me. Instead I began begging anyone who was nearby to intervene, to tell them to stop. Images flashed into my mind of what could happen. I was in pain, I couldn’t see what was going on, I was crying and bleeding, I couldn’t properly breathe, and I thought that they might leave me seriously injured. I’ve worked supporting people who’ve badly damaged their necks or back, and I can’t believe that any police officer was taught that kneeling on the back of someone’s neck is every an acceptable thing to do.
So that was one of the background sounds that Cameron was trying to drown out with his calls for round after round of applause. One of the things Cameron asked the crowd to cheer was “the Paralympics, that was great.” Well yes, the paralympics was great, but he should remember that his ministers were booed loudly whenever they appeared at paralympic ceremonies, and that it had the least popular sponsor possible, ATOS. The government gave ATOS the contract to kick disabled people off benefits they need to survive, and despite some of its staff quitting on grounds of conscience, they’ve done an admirable job of swiping those benefits away.
To rub salt into the wound the government justify their cuts with misleading press releases about what percentage of disabled people they’ve deemed “fit for work.” These are taken up by the press, who spin them still further from reality and stir up public hatred of “scroungers” and “shirkers”. A survey by Inclusion London found that the general public believe that between 50% and 70% of disability claims are fraudulent. The reality is that the fraud rate for disability benefits is 0.5%.
The words that the government and media are using is the indirect part of their attack on disabled people. Disability hate crime, which ranges from comments in the street through vandalism of motability cars up to imprisonment, torture, rape and murder (yes, in the UK, this happens) is growing. A Comres study found that 66% of disabled people in September 2011 said they experienced aggression, hostility or name calling compared with 41% in May 2011. That’s a huge increase in a short amount of time.
I knew about this through hearing and reading stories about the people who are being affected, I also knew that these stories weren’t being given the front page spreads that ‘scrounger’ stories get. I think it’s important to show that some of us are refusing to buy the rhetoric that would have us scapegoat disabled people. So I held up a placard that said “Cameron has blood on his hands,” and I shouted that “disabled people are dying because of Cameron’s policies.” I didn’t expect that to be a big deal, I only wanted to do my bit to show that we’re not all taken in by the rhetoric that disabled people are ‘scroungers’ and ‘shirkers.’ I didn’t think that it would lead to being beaten up, arrested, held overnight and then taken to court on two ridiculous charges.
Since December there has been a little more attention slowly coming to focus on the horrific way that this government is treating disabled people. MP Micheal Meacher told the House of Commons that Cameron has blood on his hands (he didn’t get arrested). We’ve heard more about how the bedroom tax is going to hit disabled people.
But still, there’s very little media coverage of the disability campaigners who are also in court today, in London, challenging the cut of the Independent Living Fund, which will force people into residential homes? [http://www.dpac.uk.net/2013/03/vigil-to-save-the-independent-living-fund-13th-march-london/] We had a huge amount of coverage of one large family getting one large council house. Where are the front page stories about the far more common experiences of people who are losing their independence, their ability to meet their basic needs, even their houses? Where are the front page stories about the people who have killed themselves, seeing no other option as the support they need is pulled away from under them? There are now 30 cases listed on the website Calum’s List, a memorial site for those who have died because of the welfare reforms, either through suicide or through ill health and hardship. Aren’t any of those 30 people as newsworthy as one large family getting a large house?
We must do what the mainstream media will not, and resist the government’s attempt to divide and rule. We can listen to the voices of the people who know what’s going on, the people on the frontline of the cuts, and share them with our friends.
Calum’s List is hard reading, but important. It lists the deaths caused directly by welfare reform.
Disabled People Against Cuts campaign tirelessly, provide an endless amount of information and analysis, and receive hardly any media coverage, or even the recognition they deserve from the wider anti-cuts movement
The Black Triangle Campaign tells it just how it is, read their about page, read some of their blog posts, and you get a sense of just how violent the government’s two-pronged attack on disabled people is, and how dangerous it is for the rest of society to stay silent.