The Metropolitan police have launched an inquiry into the policing of a five-hour protest outside Westminster Abbey, apparently following allegations that officers prevented disabled activists from receiving food, drink and medication.
It is just the latest inquiry to examine how the force has dealt with disabled people who have taken part in anti-austerity protests since the coalition came to power in 2010.
Saturday’s protest at Westminster Abbey was aimed at drawing attention to the government’s decision to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF), and included about 10 ILF-recipients, all disabled people with high support needs.
A heavy police presence arrived minutes after activists from Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) began setting up a camp on private land belonging to the abbey, with the support of the mainstream grassroots groups UK Uncut and Occupy London.
Some of the activists were not able to enter the grounds because security staff – who appeared to have been warned about the protest in advance – had already locked some of the gates.
The police presence continued to grow until there were more than 200 officers surrounding a group of about 50 protesters, about half of whom were disabled people.
One of the protestors who had been unable to enter the grounds, Robert Punton, described later in a blog how a disabled activist inside the metal railings asked Punton’s personal assistant to pass him a bag, which contained his medication.
But a police officer pushed the bag back over the fence, even though he was told it contained vital medication.
Officers also refused to allow food and water to be passed over the fence.
Users of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), along with members of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), UK Uncut and Occupy London, have set up a protest camp in the grounds of Westminster Abbey.
Disabled activists chained themselves to the gates while the camp was being set up.
The ILF was originally set up in 1988 as a national resource to fund support for disabled people with high support needs, enabling them to live in the community rather than move into residential care. It allowed them to be active in society – in education and employment, as volunteers and trustees, as employers, and as carers for family and friends.
According to Independent Living Fightback, “Currently 17,500 disabled people with the highest levels of need receive essential support through the ILF enabling them to enjoy fulfilling lives and contribute to their communities. The closure of the fund will have a devastating impact on the lives of these individuals and their families. It also has a much wider significance that affects all of us because at the heart of this issue is the fundamental question of disabled people’s place in society: do we want a society that keeps its disabled citizens out of sight, prisoners in their own homes or locked away in institutions, surviving not living or do we want a society that enables disabled people to participate, contribute and enjoy the opportunities, choice and control that non disabled people take for granted?”
“In December 2010 the Government announced the closure of the ILF to new applicants, and in December 2012 following a consultation on the future of the Fund that disabled people claim was inaccessible and carried out in bad faith, it was announced that the Fund would be closed permanently from April 2015. The Government claimed that Local Authorities could meet the same outcomes as the ILF and proposed transfer for existing ILF recipients to their Local Authorities.
“A group of ILF users successfully challenged the decision to close the fund and The Court of Appeal ruled in November 2013 that the closure decision had breached the public sector equality duty because the Minister had not been given adequate information to be able to properly assess the practical effect of closure on the particular needs of ILF users and their ability to live independently.
“However, on 6th March 2014 the Minister for Disabled People announced his intention to press ahead with the closure of the Independent Living Fund on 30 June 2015. A fresh legal challenge by ILF recipients was issued last week on the same basis as the first that once again the Minister had not discharged the public sector equality duty because he did not have adequate information to be able to properly understand what the impact of closure would be on the people affected.
“Transition funding will not be ring fenced for social care once it is transferred to local authorities, and so even within 2015-2016 there will be no guarantee that this money will be spent on supporting disabled people to live independently rather than absorbed into the broader council budget.
“ILF recipients will only be eligible for continued social care support from their local authority if they meet… criteria. The new Government’s intention to set the new national eligibility threshold at ‘substantial’ means that many simply will not receive any replacement support from their local authority once the ILF closes.”
“For me this is personal,” she writes. “I grew up with narratives handed down to me by my family of visceral poverty. My granddad, one of 12, described siblings dying from treatable illnesses; of the ever-present shame and fear of the workhouse; of fear of not having enough to eat, or of being warm enough or of knowing where they would sleep. When he died in 2009 he had paid for his own funeral, the avoidance of what was for him a final shame – the paupers grave.
“In his lifetime those fears were replaced with rights – the right to housing, the right to support in old age, the right to support for those who were unwell, the right to support if there was no work, rights to equal access. However imperfect these were rights nonetheless.
“Today I take action because I believe that those rights have been eroded and because I do not accept the government’s claim that there is no money to fund vital public services.
“I act because I am angry that corporations like Boots are enabled by our government to avoid paying taxes, while disabled people are told that they do not have the right to make decisions about their own care.
“I act because I am furious that citizenship has become tied to wealth and not to fundamental rights. I am angry that we are told that the cuts are about creating choice in a market: because what kind of choice is being a prisoner at home or in residential care?”
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