Paralympians Kadeena Cox and Anne Wafula Strike have come together with charity chiefs and thousands of others in calling on all party leaders to protect disability benefits, ahead of the general election next week.
Over 16,500 people have signed an open letter to party leaders, urging them to make no more cuts to disability benefits over the course of the next Parliament. The letter has been written by the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) – a coalition of over 70 different charities, including the MS Society and the disability charity Scope.
Signatories include Paralympians Kadeena Cox and Anne Wafula Strike, wheelchair athlete Carly Tait, BBC Radio 1 DJ Scott Mills, actor Alun Armstrong, Sky Sports commentator Tony Johnstone and The Maccabees’ Felix White.
There are an estimated 13 million people living with disabilities in the UK, who charities and campaigners say have cruelly and unfairly borne the brunt of austerity measures over the last seven years.
Cuts include a tightening of the criteria for Personal Independence Payments (PIP), resulting in more than 50,000 disabled people losing their motability vehicles.
A deeply flawed PIP assessment system has led to 65% of denied PIP claims being overturned on appeal, while new tribunal regulations mean 165,000 disabled people are being denied benefit.
A £30 a week cut for people placed in the Work Related Activity Group of Employment Support Allowance will see an estimated 500,000 sick and disabled people lose around £1,400 a year, despite widespread concerns about the accuracy of so-called ‘fit for work’ tests.
Disabled people have also witnessed the abolition of the Independent Living Fund, which helped many people with disabilities to live as independently as possible and engage with the rest of society, and the forced closure of Remploy factories – among other cuts.
Celia Johnson, who lives with MS and lost her Motability car after having her benefits cut last year, said: “I’ve fought for a long time to keep my independence with a condition like MS that’s so unpredictable.
“It can’t be right that with a stroke of a keyboard, they can completely mess up someone’s life. This shouldn’t be allowed to happen.”
MS Society Policy Manager Laura Wetherly, who also co-chairs the DBC said: “Today thousands of people across the UK are sending a loud and clear message to our politicians that the current welfare system doesn’t make any sense.
“Too many disabled people have been stripped of the security and stability they need to live independent lives.
“The next Government must make sure no further cuts are made to disability benefits so that disabled people can rely on support without the constant fear of having it taken away.”
In 2016, a report from the United Nations accused the UK Government of “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights.
The report, from the UN Committee on the Rights of Disabled Persons (UNCRPD), concluded that benefit changes had “hindered disabled people’s right to live independently and be included in the community”, adding that disabled people were routinely portrayed as “being lazy or putting a burden on taxpayers”.
It added: “The committee observes that measures have caused financial hardship to persons with disabilities resulting in… arrears, debts, evictions and cuts to essentials such as housing and food.”
Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green dismissed the report as “patronising and offensive”, refusing to even consider calls to ensure that disabled people’s rights are upheld.
Mr Green said: “At the heart of this report lies an outdated view of disability which is patronising and offensive. We strongly refute its findings.
“The UN measures success as the amount of money poured into the system, rather than the work and health outcomes for disabled people.
“Our focus is on helping disabled people find and stay in work, whilst taking care of those who can’t.”
Responding, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Debbie Abrahams, said: “The UN committee is clear that its report examines the cumulative impact of legislation, policies and measures adopted from 2010 to October 2016, so the government’s claim that it is outdated does not stand up to scrutiny.
“I am also concerned that the government is labelling the report as patronising, when they are the ones dismissing the concerns raised by disabled people who helped instigate the inquiry in the first place.”