Help push the debate on the impact of cuts on the disabled

Help push the debate on the impact of cuts on the disabled

In the Summer I wrote about my seriously ill friend Yvonne, who has had a double lung transplant, breast cancer, and multiple other health problems.

Today, Yvonne is in an ambulance on her way to Harefield Hospital in Middlesex, from her home in North Wales. Two weeks ago, she was summoned to her local Jobcentre, having been placed in the Work Related Activity Group by Atos, who believe that with support Yvonne could return to work in the future. Yvonne will be lucky to be alive in the future, but thanks to Atos and the DWP, she is spending what time she has left worrying about her appeal against this ludicrous decision.

Ever since the Welfare Reform Act was passed, sick and disabled people like Yvonne have been targeted for cuts, and have felt abandoned by some of those they hoped would defend them. The Opposition in Parliament, with some very honourable exceptions, has been largely silent on the issue, and charities which represent various patient groups have been muted, perhaps afraid of expressing a view which could be seen as political.

It has largely been left to the victims to defend themselves, and some remarkable characters like Sue Marsh have emerged to carry the fight to the government - sometimes from a hospital bed.

A major focus of the campaign has been Pat's Petition, established by the redoubtable Pat Onions, a blind carer. This e-petition on the government website called for the government to ‘stop and review the cuts which are falling disproportionately on disabled people their families and carers’.

The petition closed recently, with over 62,000 signatures. That was not enough to satisfy the requirement of 100,000 to ensure the chance of a debate in Parliament. But when the petition closed Pat and her supporters vowed to fight on, and they are now getting results.

An open letter to Liam Byrne MP, the Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions, was followed by individual letters, emails and tweets, which now appear to have succeeded. The Labour party has announced it will devote an Opposition Day debate to the issues raised in Pat's Petition, and this will happen some time in January. It has been dubbed Pat's Debate. #PatsDebate

Campaigners are now focussing on this Debate, asking everybody to contact their MPs to urge them to take part, to let them know what the issues are, and what it means to them.

It has taken a lot of hard work to get this far, often by people who are battling pain and illness. Please lend them your support by contacting your MP, which you can easily do via this link.

And remember, if today you are lucky enough not to be affected by illness or disability, you or a loved one could be affected tomorrow. We all need a vital safety net which is currently being destroyed. Please join the fight to defend it.

For more information on how the cuts are hitting disabled people: http://thehardesthit.wordpress.com/our-message/the-tipping-point/

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© Bernadette Meaden has written about religious, political and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor.

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