Welfare reform petition campaign elicits huge online response

By staff writers
December 19, 2012

A petition campaign by disabled and sick people calling for an independent inquiry into the impact of the government's controversial welfare reforms has produced a huge surge of support on social media sites.

A remarkable 2,000 people had signed the petition on the government's own e-democracy website within a little over four hours of its launch.

The War on Welfare (#WOWpetition) campaign was also trending on Twitter right across the British isles, and attracted thousands of people commenting and supporting it.

It was launched at 8pm on Tuesday 18 December 2012 by actor, comedian and activist Francesca Martinez, who pointed out that while DLA / ESA benefits cost £25 billion a year, by contrast tax evasion costs the UK over £100 billion annually.

She and her fellow campaigners want an independent, cumulative impact assessment of the coalition's damaging Welfare Reform Act and related provisions, together with a 'new deal' for disabled people and an end to anti-welfare rhetoric and policies.

Among those coming out in support of the initiative has been Anglican bishop and broadcaster Stephen Lowe, who is now working part-time in North Wales, but was previously the Church of England's full-time Bishop for Urban Life and Faith.

The welfare reform assessment petition is "important to sign", noted Lowe, honorary assistant bishop in St Asaph, adding: "Hope churches support [it]."

A variety of NGOs, ranging from the Multiple Sclerosis Society UK charity to Manchester MIND, UNITE the union, Church Action on Poverty and the Christian thinktank Ekklesia have come behind the campaign online -- which has been initiated and run directly by disabled and sick people, people with learning and mental health difficulties, their families and carers.

Environmental campaigner Andrew Pendleton of Friends of the Earth was encouraging his Twitter followers to sign the petition last night. So was author, broadcaster and social justice campaigner Owen Jones.

Writer and Church of England priest Rachel Mann remarked: "This one's close to my heart. When I was ill years ago, I needed benefit help. Thank God for the Welfare State."

"This government's narrative on benefit claimants must be challenged," added Ms Mann, whose new book Dazzling Darkness has been described as "a profoundly personal exploration of the theological
implications of sexuality, gender and illness".

The WOW petition aims to get 100,000 signatures as soon as possible, and to trigger a parliamentary debate on welfare reform and its demands for an independent, committee-based inquiry.

"We made a great start last night, but there's a long way to go," a War on Welfare campaigner told Ekklesia this morning.

The WOW initiative is the latest in a series of high-profile, social media driven initiatives by disabled and sick people over the past year, starting with the Spartacus Report on Disability Living Allowance, which was partly responsible for seven defeats for the government on its welfare reform programme in the House of Lords; moving on to 62k+ petition by Pat Onions, and then extending to the We Are Spartacus independent review of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) process.

* View and sign the WOW petition here - http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/43154

* War on Welfare (WOW) website - www.WOWpetition.com

* WOW on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/WoWpetition

* Call for a Cumulative Impact Assessment of Welfare Reform, and a New Deal for sick & disabled people based on their needs, abilities and ambitions - http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/43154

* The petition mirrored on Ekklesia - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17653

* Disabled and sick people should shape policies that impact them - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17655

* People's Review of the Work Capability Assessment (#realWCA) published - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17366

* Responsible Reform: Changes to Disability Living Allowance - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/responsiblereformDLA

* Disability issues on Ekklesia - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/spartacusreport

* On Twitter: #WOWpetition


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