DISABLED campaigners in wheelchairs last Saturday blocked Oxford Circus – one of central London’s busiest junctions – for two hours to protest at Con-Dem Coalition cuts to welfare and disability benefits.
The group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) was backed by the activist group UK Uncut, which aims to pressure wealthy businesses into paying their fair share of taxes. The UK Uncut activists met at Holborn Tube – closely monitored by police, and set off for a roundabout trip on the underground, followed by the police.
This gave the wheelchair users the opportunity to get to Oxford Circus and block it across the northern end of Regent Street with a line of wheelchairs chained together and chained to railings at either end before the police could stop them.
Within about 20 minutes, with traffic stationary and congestion spilling over into other streets, around 300 people were standing at the junction, chanting, playing drums and waving placards against the welfare reform bill, which was last week given a mauling in the House of Lords where even Tory peers could not stomach some of the savage cuts to the most vulnerable people in the country.
This week the Bill goes back to the House of Commons where Prime Minister David Cameron said he would undo all the amendments the Lords had made.
After the road had been blocked for just over an hour, police asked over a loudhailer that the protesters move, which they refused to do. Eventually, at around 2pm, they unchained themselves and left voluntarily.
Planned cuts to the Disability Living Allowance under the bill could see 500,000 disabled people losing money, according to the charity Mencap.
Many of the disabled people taking part said they had never before joined a demonstration but felt angry at both the proposed cuts and the associated rhetoric from both ministers and the media.
"The tabloids have created this idea that we're scroungers or fakers," said Steven Sumpter, a 33-year-old who travelled from Evesham, Worcestershire, starting at 6.30am to join the line of chained-up wheelchair users. "This has allowed the Government to do this – I think disabled people are seen as a good scapegoat."
Merry Cross, from Reading, Berkshire, said disabled people needed to work together to get their voices heard. She said: "We're seen as quite an easy target. We're not a natural community – we don't necessarily live in the same places, and we can find it hard to get together. That makes it easy for the Government to think they can target us."
Changes to the disability living allowance were likely mean her losing care assistance at home, Cross said, adding: "I've had it continuously for 20 years and now, when I'm 61, apparently I can cope fine without it. It doesn't make any sense."