by Kam Sandhu – @KamBass
Last weekend, Disabled People Against Cuts set about starting a protest in the form of a three week camp at Westminster Abbey, to run till the end of Parliament in action against the closure of the Independent Living Fund. The camp disbanded soon after it began, when the Dean of Westminster Abbey John Hall, called police to the scene to physically remove those chained to the gates. We spoke to Rob Punton from DPAC about what happened at the camp, the Church of England, the ILF and the future of the campaign. Here in his own words, Rob explains what happened and why he is forced to continue with action.
The Independent Living Fund…
“I was one of the first people to claim the Independent Living Fund. I’ve been claiming the ILF since 1988. Why it’s important to me is because it allows me to carry on with my independent living, and it allows me to do the social part of living not just the personal care part. It allows me to go out with friends. It allows me to go out and take part in community activities. The money has not been ring-fenced. We’re all scared we’re all going to end up with just home care and being marooned, if you like, in our own homes, not able to get out and take part in community activities and carry on with a fulfilled life.
“It’s like a care package. The local authority pays two thirds of your care package and the ILF gives you a third, but as we know most local authorities are struggling so if we lose the ILF, a third of our money could be lost.
“It was actually Maria Miller who announced it in 2010. She said the ILF was going to close in 2015. We’ve been fighting for this to get it stopped for five years, and when the people took the thing to High Court and won the case we thought we got a victory, but of course, Mike Penning MP decided to ignore what the High Court said, which has forced us really, to take more action.”
The Camp at Westminster Abbey
“I was down at the camp but I was locked out on the main street. I didn’t get inside the camp, I was outside the gate.
“The camp ended because we went to Westminster Abbey because we made the assumption that the Church of England, who had already spoken out about the government and about the austerity cuts, was supportive and would allow us to camp out on their property. But of course, as soon as we got there, John Hall, the Dean of Westminster Abbey, came to say that we weren’t welcome on his property and called the police to come and physically remove us. So that’s why there was 300 policemen for 100 protestors. They kettled everybody in and refused to allow food, water and medication in to the protestors so they were forced to leave early.
“I was actually out on the gate with my PA and a protestor came over and asked us to pass his medication over. We tried to pass it over. I tried to push this bag back over and police actually pushed my PA and pushed this guy needing the medication apart and he was really aggressive towards people, and like I said refused people water, food and medication.
“Inside the camp there were 100 protestors, and there were 300 police. And that was just normal police. Later in the afternoon they sent ones armed with guns into the camp and they were marching around with guns halfway through the protest.
“The Dean was cowering in his cathedral behind closed doors and wouldn’t even come out and face the media. He just locked the doors to the Abbey and let the police deal with things.
“We’ve been shown that they’re the Church of the Establishment. That’s what CofE stands for now, because they obviously don’t give a monkeys about the people of Britain. They talk about standing up and fighting for normal people, but when it comes to doing things on the ground, they cower away. We’re disgusted and we’re considering writing a letter putting forward a proposal to get the Dean of Westminster removed from his post because we don’t think he’s right. He talks about Christian morality but he hasn’t shown much Christian morality in this situation.
“What’s even more alarming is that this man is supposed to be the chair of a disability organisation but when it came to supporting disabled people in the street, he turned his back on them, so it doesn’t say a lot about the way he looks at disabled people.”
“Mainstream media belongs to the government anyway. So the BBC and ITV and people like Sky only report what the government want them to report. Obviously, the austerity cuts that everybody is facing are not just being reported to the general public so we have to use social media to get it out there.”
“There’s another demonstration on Friday 4th July outside Parliament and we’ll continue to escalate the situation and take it forward. Luckily we’ve got some good support form Occupy and got some links with community groups to work together to bring down this government and coalition.
“The alternative of losing is dire consequences for everybody because the government have proved they have no regard for anyone at all.”
If the closure of the ILF went ahead…
“There are thousands of disabled people who have got no power. What you’ve got to remember is that while people like myself are going out and protesting, a lot of people are not in the position to do so and they are the ones being socially imprisoned in their own homes and being institutionalised and isolated from society. And we’re worried that because of the growth of urgency, we’ll leave a lot more people vulnerable and open to abuse in their own homes.
“I think we have to stop blaming the most marginalised people in society for society’s problems, because while we’re getting angry about benefit claimants we’re losing the NHS. It’s the banks and businesses that need to take responsibilities and we need to ensure that big companies like Amazon and Boots pay their taxes. If everybody paid their taxes, the money would be there to help people. We need to have proper assessments from people who know about the people who need assessing and we need to start talking to disability organisations and disabled people to include them properly and get social justice for everybody and not just the powerful, rich and the strong.”