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Disability rights campaigners blocked Regent Street in central London on Saturday in a protest over welfare reform.

 

Protesters chained their wheelchairs together across the road, bringing traffic to a standstill on one of the capital’s busiest shopping streets.


They told Sky News they felt they were being ignored by the Government over changes to disability allowance, which they claim will directly disadvantage vulnerable people.

One wheelchair user, Andy, 37, from Islington, said: “The whole raft of cuts that are being carried through will affect all of the services that support disabled people – public services, social care, the voluntary sector.
“To reform one would have a big impact, but reforming them all is going to be devastating for those who depend on them.”

He added: “The Welfare Reform Bill does nothing to address the real issues facing disabled people. There is high unemployment already, problems with lack of access, workplace discrimination and a lack of pre and in-work support. Disabled people are already at the end of their tether.”


Disabled activists had travelled from across the UK to take part in the protest and members of direct action group UK Uncut campaigned alongside them in solidarity.

Josie McDermot, from the group, said: “The Welfare Reform Bill is cruel and unnecessary, and this protest is an essential way to persuade the Government to scrap their plans.

“It is great to be part of such a broad and powerful campaign against the Welfare Reform Bill and to keep building the pressure that has already been piled on with the Spartacus report.

“It is typical bully tactics by the Government to force marginalised people in society to pay for the economic downturn, while letting bonuses run wild and rich companies continue tax-dodging to the tune of £25bn.”

The Welfare Reform Bill , which is currently going through Parliament, would see the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) replaced next year with a new entitlement called Personal Independence Payments (PIP).

The changes would involve upfront medical tests and regular assessments for working people aged 16 to 24.

The Government says it will reform an outdated benefit and make the system simpler and fairer, but campaigners claim it could mean 500,000 people losing their allowance and some single disabled people in cities like London being left with as little as £25 a week after paying their rent.

Multiple gold medal-winning paralympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson said the protest highlighted the “real fear” among disabled people about their future.

“The changes to disability allowance has left an awful lot of people feeling very frightened. It would be great if we didn’t need that benefit but it is there because of the cost of being disabled,” she said.
 
“People need a little bit more help in terms of getting to work and around the house and I think we’ve got a long way to go before we have a system that works for everybody.”


“The Government’s own figures have said that half a million people could lose out when they are being transferred from DLA to PIP. We just need greater clarity about who those people are and how they are going to be affected.”

The Government said the coalition is “absolutely committed” to supporting the disabled and pointed out that any households where someone received DLA would be exempt from the benefit cap.

A spokesman insisted the reforms would mean that “disabled adults in greatest need and severely disabled children will receive more support than now”.

The protesters moved off of their own accord after a couple of hours but warned they would be back and would do whatever it takes to stop the reforms being implemented.

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