The House of Commons will today (27 February 2014) debate the impact of current UK welfare reform on sick and disabled people and carers.
The debate will follow a lobby of MPs in the Jubilee Room at the Westminster Parliament, attended by supporters including the Dean of St Paul's Cathedral, charities and NGOs.
The initiative in securing the debate has come from disabled and sick people themselves through the WOW Petition Campaign – backed by Ekklesia and many others – which is highlighting the damaging impact of the £28.3 billion worth of support they will lose by 2018 as a result of changes and reductions brought in by the coalition government.
Thousands of disabled people are being hit simultaneously by up to six different welfare cuts. Up to 3.7 million sick and disabled people are affected overall, campaigners point out.
Yet the government has not attempted an overall assessment of the damaging impact this is having on their lives and has closed its ears to alternative perspectives and policies.
The petition that triggered the debate was signed online by over 104,000 people through the government's e-petition website.
"Sick and disabled people are turning to foodbanks to survive, falling into poverty and debt," says comedian, actress and activist Francesca Martinez, who lives with cerebral palsy, and who helped launch WOW.
Ms Martinez declared ahead of the Commons debate: ‘The success of the WOW Petition has shown that there is huge public support for political change to the current welfare reforms. The government's policies have had a disastrous impact on disabled people, sick people and carers, subjecting many to poverty, distress, humiliation and even death. This is unacceptable and has to be fought by all citizens.
"We will never forget those who have needlessly died from these devastating cuts and will make sure that those without voices will be heard. A society which looks after those who need it is a civilised one and I, for one, am proud to pay taxes which help provide this vital support network.
"Disabled people have an equal right to happiness, dignity, and opportunity, and we will continue to demand these basic human rights for all, regardless of ability, health or income," she declared.
The debate will be led in the House of Commons by Labour MPs John McDonnell and Grahame M Morris, with support from people of many parties and allegiances.
It will take place under a single line whip, which means that MP’s can choose to either attend or vote. Campaigners have been working hard to encourage attendance and positive participation, and that is also the focus of the pre-debate lobby.
The Centre for Wefare Reform and the Christian think-tank Ekklesia are among those arguing that welfare reform should be about how to build a welfare society and restructure public provision to make it stronger, rather than cuts, threats and the scapegoating of the most vulnerable.
The WOWpetition debate itself can be watched live on Freesat Channel 201, Virgin Channel 605, Sky Channel 504, on your computer at http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Home.aspx or the BBC Parliament Channel.
* A full briefing on the lobby and debate is available here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/files/wow_debate.pdf
* WOW (War on Welfare) Petition Campaign: http://wowpetition.com
* More from Ekklesia on the WOW initiative: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/WOWpetition