Praise for groundbreaking #spartacusreport campaign

By staff writers
January 12, 2012

"One of the most fascinating things about the government's wobble on welfare this week has been the critical role of a new breed of disability campaigner in successfully marshalling public and political opposition to the reforms." writes Patrick Butler, Head of Society, Health and Education at the Guardian, today.

His entry in the paper's welfare reform liveblog (link below) is worth quoting in full - and you can join the debate, too.

Butler continues:

The mainstream media has now started to play catch up with the bill and its consequences, partly because of events in the Lords last night, but mainly because of the astonishing success of a network of highly motivated and creative disabled (and non-partisan) campaigners loosely coalesced under the #Spartacusreport Twitter hashtag.

Disability issues have always struggled to get on the media radar. But that changed dramatically on Monday when #spartacusreport started trending on Twitter. The report itself is a hugely impressive piece of analysis which identifies the statistical flaws and evasions underpinning the government's disability living allowance proposals. It also revealed London Mayor Boris Johnson's hitherto unknown concerns about DLA reform.

But it was arguably not so much the substance of the report that caught the mainstream media's eye (it didn't) but the realisation - through twitter - that hundreds of thousands of people were deeply angry about the proposed reforms.

The spartacus hashtag trended all day, across the UK. Stephen Fry (who has over three millions twitter followers) tweeted his support (triggering a response from followers that temporarily crashed the site on which the report was hosted). Other celebrities followed suit. A famous TV chef may have been caught shoplifting in Tesco that day, but Twitter suggested more people wanted to know why the government was apparently lying over disability benefits.

By mid afternoon on Monday even the Department of Work and Pensions press office felt obliged had started to respond to #Spartacusreport via twitter. TV and radio broadcasters, taken by surprise, started to contact the campaigners, suddenly nervously eager to start talking about DLA on prime time (whatever DLA was). MPs and peers on twitter could not help but notice what the most important thing on the House of Lords agenda was this week.

Even the Daily Mail, previously known for its vicious attacks on "benefit scroungers" has felt obliged to run columns on its website endorsing the #spartacus report and critical of govenrment welfare reform.

Essentially, Spartacus looks like one of the most effective disability lobbying campaigns ever. It has raised the bar on social media campaigning, and arguably started to change the terms of engagement between service users and carers, charities, media and legislators.

Key members of the campaign include Sue Marsh (@Suey2y) and Kaliya Franklin (@Bendygirl). The pair were listed in the Independent's list of the 50 most influential non-celebrities on Twitter recently (even before this week's triumph).

But they are the first to point out that #spartacus is a collective effort, involving hundreds, if not thousands of ill disabled people, all networked through twitter.

Marsh's and Franklin's blogs - respectively Diary of a Benefit Scrounger, and Benefit Scrounging Scum have become must reads, constantly challenging media stereotypes of disabled people and making the case against the welfare reform bill.

Their campaign - which threatens togo up a gear next week when DLA proposals are debated in the Lords - has been innovative, compelling and at times, almost unbearably moving: check out the comments section on this post by Marsh on Monday.

As Marsh and Franklin posted today: "We have come this far... by making reasonable, calm, evidence based arguments to the people who really matter, the people with all the power. We have come to this point by engaging with politicians of all colours, by owning social media and using it to make our own news."

Please tell us what you think of #Spartacusreport via the comments section below or via @patrickjbutler

Courtesy of the Guardian's excellent welfare reform liveblog:


* Please wear the Spartacus twibbon:

* More on the Spartacus campaign:

* The report 'Responsible Reform' can be read here:

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