New Internationalist

The cuts can kill and we must not stay silent


On Thursday 15 March I was found guilty in the Oxford Magistrates’ Court of causing ‘harassment, alarm and distress,’ following a peaceful, and legal, political protest in Witney in December 2012. The judge said ‘I can think of nothing more alarming than the statement that “Cameron has blood on his hands.”’

I will continue to say that British Prime Minister ‘Cameron has blood on his hands’, whenever the opportunity presents itself. Thousands of people in Britain have died after being found ‘fit for work’. Over the long term, as more and more is taken away there will be increasing harm and death.

On the 30 November 2012 David Cameron was booed as he came on stage to turn on the Witney Christmas Lights. You can watch a video of him trying to drown out any criticism by awkwardly getting the crowd to cheer for everyone from themselves to the Queen on YouTube. Kind of funny. Also, kind of not funny.

Beth Tichborne outside court
Beth Tichborne outside the court Chris Honeywell

I find it very weird watching the video, because while this was going on I was being beaten up by the police on the other side of the stage. I have never been so scared: my face was being pushed into the ground, I could feel blood coming from my nose, there was someone putting their whole weight on my back while someone else was stamping on my knees, along with various people grabbing and twisting my limbs. And then the officer on my back moved a knee up onto the back of my neck.

Up until then I’d been shouting ‘I’m not resisting, I’m cooperating,’ trying to ask them to stop, but from the moment I felt someone pressing their body weight into the back of my neck I gave up trying to communicate anything to them, I realized the police officers on top of me either couldn’t, or wouldn’t, hear me. Instead I began begging anyone who was nearby to intervene, to tell them to stop.

One of the things Cameron had asked the crowd to cheer was ‘the Paralympics, that was great.’ Well yes, the Paralympics were great, but he should remember that his ministers were booed loudly whenever they appeared at Paralympic ceremonies, and that it had the least popular sponsor possible, Atos.

The British coalition government gave Atos the contract to kick disabled people off benefits they need to survive, and despite some of its staff quitting on grounds of conscience, they’ve done an admirable job of swiping those benefits away. To rub salt into the wound the government justify their cuts with misleading press releases about what percentage of disabled people they’ve deemed ‘fit for work.’ These are taken up by the press, who spin them still further from reality and stir up public hatred of ‘scroungers’ and ‘shirkers’. A survey by Inclusion London found that the general public believes that between 50 per cent and 70 per cent of disability claims are fraudulent. The reality is that the fraud rate for disability benefits is 0.5 per cent.

Disability hate crime, which ranges from comments in the street through vandalism of motability cars up to imprisonment, torture, rape and murder is growing. A Comres study found that 66 per cent of disabled people in September 2011 said they experienced aggression, hostility or name calling compared with 41 per cent in May 2011. I’d heard the stories about the people being affected, but I also knew that these stories weren’t being given the front page spreads that ‘scrounger’ stories get. I think it’s important to show that some of us are refusing to buy the rhetoric that would have us scapegoat disabled people. So I held up a placard that said ‘Cameron has blood on his hands,’ and I shouted that ‘disabled people are dying because of Cameron’s policies.’ I didn’t expect that to be a big deal.

Since December 2012 there has slowly been more attention paid to the horrific way that this government is treating disabled people. Member of Parliament Michael Meacher told the House of Commons that Cameron has blood on his hands (he didn’t get arrested). We’ve heard more about how the bedroom tax is going to hit disabled people. But still, there’s very little media coverage of the disability campaigners who are also in court on Thursday 15 March in London, challenging the cut of the Independent Living Fund, which will force people into residential homes.  

The £747 ($1,130) fine and costs I have been given come to more than I earn in a month but, according to the judge, of course I’d have no trouble paying it back. After rent, travel to work, food and paying off loans I don’t have money left by the time pay day comes, and my salary is going down soon, so I’m not sure what will happen next. Except that I’m going to keep saying that Cameron has blood on his hands.

We can listen to the voices of the people who know what’s going on, the people on the frontline of the cuts, and share them with our friends. Calum’s List, a memorial site for those who have died because of the welfare reforms, is hard reading, but important. It lists the deaths caused directly by welfare reform. Disabled People Against Cuts campaign tirelessly, provide an endless amount of information and analysis, and receive hardly any media coverage, or even the recognition they deserve from the wider anti-cuts movement. The Black Triangle Campaign tells it just how it is, read their page and you get a sense of just how violent the government’s two-pronged attack on disabled people is, and how dangerous it is for the rest of society to stay silent.

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