Campaign against disability and welfare cuts steps up

By staff writers
12 Jan 2012

Buoyed by a stunning victory in the House of Lords, disabled rights activists and their supporters are pledging to step up the campaign for welfare justice.

The government was defeated by large votes on three crucial amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill (WRB) last night, thanks to the commitment of Crossbench Peers such as Lord Patel and Baroness Meacher, the votes of Labour members, and intensive lobbying and publicity from #spartacusreport campaigners.

A number of the sick and disabled people involved in leading the Spartacus initiative have suffered health setbacks as a result of their determination to thwart damaging cuts impacting the poor and vulnerable.

Now Labour MP John McDonnell has tabled a Parliamentary Question asking for a statement from the Government in response to the 'Responsible Reform' report (also known as the Spartacus report) produced by disabled people themselves. This exposes what critics calls the 'sham' official consultation on Disability Living Allowance (DLA).

Information released under the Freedom of Information Act has shown that of the 500+ civic organisations giving their views, 74 per cent opposed the government's on DLA and PIP altogether, and up to 98 per cent opposed one or more of the major proposals - including London's Conservative Mayor, Boris Johnson.

Yet the government failed to reveal this publicly and also breached its own consultation guidelines, launching legislative procedure before the process had ended. Mr McDonnell says he wants proper answers rather than slick evasions in relation to the serious issues this raises.

The Parliamentary Question comes ahead of an impending Lords vote on the DLA, which is a lifeline for many disabled people. Work Capability Assessments will also come into the spotlight, as will as the government's desire to abolish Social Fund crisis payments and other aspects of the Welfare Reform Bill - which is currently in the report stage before returning to the House of Commons and seeking Royal Assent, probably in March.

With defeat in the House of Lords, opposition from the Scottish and Welsh governments, growing condemnation across the political spectrum, as well as criticism from hundreds of charities, community groups, medical organisations, churches, NGOs and public figures, the coalition government is now decidedly on the back foot.

Green Party of England and Wales leader Caroline Lucas MP expressed her clear support for the #spartacusreport yesterday.

And in response to developments in parliament last night, Scottish National Party deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon tweeted to Ekklesia that she was "pleased to hear about Lords votes tonight. The Welfare Reform Bill will hurt many vulnerable people."

A range of organisations is now calling on the government to recognise the scale of opposition to their plans and to allow an appropriate six-month legislative pause to allow proper consideration of additional evidence, redrafting of proposals and direct engagement with vulnerable groups. They include major charities, the Trades Union Congress, disability groups, public figures, and the beliefs and values think-tank Ekklesia.

Meanwhile the #spartacusreport initiative looks set to grow into an ever larger 'coalition of the willing' against the government's flawed welfare reform plans.

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* The report on DLA changes written by disabled people themselves, 'Responsible Reform' is being made available online at Ekklesia and elsewhere. See: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/responsiblereformDLA An easy-read version has been made available by United Response: http://bit.ly/xy0elw

* Please wear the Spartacus twibbon: http://twibbon.com/join/spartacusreport

* More on the Spartacus campaign: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/spartacusreport

* Baroness Meacher explains why and how the Lords carried three amendments against the government on WRB (video): http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-16522485

[Ekk/3]

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