Wheelchair warriors invade Parliament

DISABLED activists staged a daring attempt to invade the House of Commons last week during Prime Minister’s Questions to protest at the abolition of the Independent Living Fund (ILF).

The ILF is the non-means tested benefit paid to people with disabilities in recognition that their day-to-day living costs are higher than everyone else’s. They have to pay for various appliances, home adaptations, cab fares, home help costs and so on.

Its existence has allowed many people with disabilities to get jobs and lead as close to normal lives as most people.

But it was abolished earlier this week to be replaced with a personal allowance to be paid by local authorities. The new Personal Independent Payments will be means tested — which means that some disabled wage earners will not get much and then no longer be able to keep up their jobs.

Each applicant has to be assessed separately — a process that is expensive and is taking a very long time — leaving some with nothing while their claims are sorted out.

The money given to the cash-strapped local authorities by central government to cover the costs has not been ring-fenced and could end up being allocated to other essential spending.

Dr Tom Shakespeare, a leading disabled academic and now senior lecturer in medical sociology at the University of East Anglia (UEA), told a seminar at the House of Lords that the research showed local authorities appeared to have a “very minimalistic interpretation of independent living principles”. He said that the uncertainty and bureaucracy of the transition process were causing “fear, stress and anxiety” among ILF-users.

Last Wednesday’s attempted invasion of the House of Commons was organised by Disabled people Against the Cuts.

Witnesses said one police officer “punched” one of the wheelchair user’s personal carers, while another onlooker said an officer restrained a woman by applying pressure to her neck as the group moved from Parliament’s Central Lobby towards the House of Commons chamber.

Around 30 police officers formed a human wall as a group of around 10 wheelchair users and their carers pushed their way towards the House of Commons chamber, where MPs were grilling David Cameron over the government’s plans to cut £12 billion from the welfare budget.

Jamie McCormack, one of the disabled protesters, told The Independent: “They physically man-handled a female PA (personal assistant) by restraining both arms back and elevating her neck back, which for someone with a neck injury, can paralyse you.

“They were trying to subdue her but she’s a slimly built woman being held by two burly cops. Another officer punched a PA.”

George Freeman, the government’s Life Sciences minister, condemned the violence, saying the protesters did their cause no good by rushing towards the chamber. But DPAC defended their actions, insisting it had drawn media attention to their cause.

The Metropolitan police said there were no arrests but one person and their carer were ejected from the Palace of Westminster for “disorderly behaviour”.

A seminar organised by the campaigning disabled peer Baroness Campbell heard that ILF-users interviewed about the reassessments of their care needs they had been given by their local authorities said they had found the process bureaucratic, inflexible and unprofessional, compared with the empowering and flexible nature of ILF.

Introducing the seminar, Baroness Campbell said she was “not going to apologise for the disruption outside”, caused by the protest