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
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
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
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
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