CAMPAIGNS: Judge and Jury - First shots are fired in bitter war of attrition over benefits

Benefit cuts for the disabled have caused a furore among pressure groups, but the issues are complex and it will take more than dramatic visual protest to sway the Government, says Deborah Saw, a director at Fleishman-Hillard UK.

Benefit cuts for the disabled have caused a furore among pressure

groups, but the issues are complex and it will take more than dramatic

visual protest to sway the Government, says Deborah Saw, a director at

Fleishman-Hillard UK.



Is it my imagination or are honeymoon periods for governments getting

shorter? A Government elected to introduce change last May is now being

criticised for doing just that. The irony is that the pressure groups

who saw themselves as natural allies with Labour are now campaigning

against it in Government.



How Labour’s spin doctors must have winced when almost every national’s

front page had photographs of police officers cutting wheelchair bound

protesters from the gates of Downing Street three days before

Christmas.



A dozen disabled people were arrested and red paint was spattered on the

Prime Minister’s doorstep by members of DAN, the Disabled People’s

Direct Action Network.



Well, the protest worked, didn’t it? Pages of newspaper coverage on the

plight of the disabled confronted by a Government committed to cutting

their benefit; prime time television news; condemnation from churches,

letters to editors and critical motions submitted by Labour members to

spring’s Scottish conference.



No doubt this will be one of a series of protests DAN will mount, but

will they have any real impact on a Government with a huge popular

mandate?



The Government’s reaction was to start briefing journalists that 40 per

cent of the annual bill for disability goes to households with

above-average incomes. Representatives of the mainstream charities

reacted with shock.



How could a Labour Government engage in black propaganda against the

disabled?



The mainstream charities have to recognise something which DAN has

already grasped - this Government has no sacred cows. But there is still

time to influence its thinking. The Green Paper on benefits for the

disabled is published this month.



The consultation process gives the charities the opportunity to

orchestrate a campaign which focuses on incontrovertible facts. The

Government says its review seeks to focus spending on those in real

need. The charities are all for that.



The Government wants to get disabled people into work. Disabled people

would love jobs, but the majority of them are past retirement age. The

Government’s own figures show that only one in five disabled people

might be available for work.



If this Government is committed to ending social exclusion then that

applies to the disabled as well. That’s the message the charities have

to hammer home. DAN’s Downing Street protest was the first shot in a

lengthy battle.



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