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On our own terms

Emma Hughes spoke to Andy Greene from Disabled People Against Cuts

October 1, 2015
4 min read

Emma Hughes is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective. She also works as a campaigner with environmental justice organisation Platform.

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What is Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC)?

DPAC is a campaign network of and for disabled people. We are the latest incarnation of a disability movement which stretches back to the late 1800s.

How did you get involved in DPAC? Were you politically active before?

I’ve been politically active since I sold left-wing and anarchist newspapers in my small town in Ireland as a 14-year-old in the late 1980s. I work for the local disabled people’s organisations in Islington, who formed one of the first local DPAC groups.

Can you outline the main government attacks on disabled people?

Disabled people have seen traditional forms of support savaged. Welfare cuts to out-of-work disability benefits (including the expansion of the hated and failed work capability assessment), the ending of disability living allowance to be replaced by personal independence payments (with a target of cutting a massive 20 per cent off the bill), and the bedroom tax, which affects nearly half a million households with disabled people.

In-work support has also been cut in real terms. Social care funding is in crisis. People are getting less and less support, if they can get it at all – fewer than four in 10 people get any social care – and having to pay more for it. The closure of the independent living fund, which funds people with high support needs to live independently, is seeing many people put into ‘care’ homes. It’s easy to list these things and become immune to the real horrors. People dying of neglect; people isolated in their homes, forgotten. People starving themselves to feed their kids or heat their homes. People being left in their own piss and shit for hours, or even days, because of limited care resources.

The feeling that this government has declared war on disabled people is widespread. One of the most devastating impacts has been the reaction of the general public to the ‘scrounger’ narrative used by the government in order to sell these cuts. Disability hate crime has sky-rocketed. More and more disabled people are experiencing this on a daily basis.

DPAC has been responsible for some of the most audacious and effective direct actions of the last few years – is it important for you to not just challenge the government but also the image of disabled people as victims?

It’s easy to assume we are just victims. However, the disability movement has never just sat back and allowed others to frame a response on our behalf. The images of disabled people bringing central London to a standstill or occupying government departments are examples of how we have collective power, expressed on our own terms. That has resonated with others and we have seen a resurgence of disabled people taking action across the country. And it isn’t over yet – we are preparing for a new campaign next year.

What’s been your favourite DPAC action?

When we tried to occupy Westminster Abbey to build an independent living protest camp opposite parliament in June last year. It involved over 100 people and seven and a half tonnes of kit, which we managed to get right under the nose of one of the most watched patches of ground in the world. We came within a hair’s breadth of carrying it off. That action involved joint work with Occupy, UK Uncut and others, and is an example of what is possible when groups work together.

DPAC has been involved in a number of anti-cuts movements – is it important to DPAC to be intersectional?

It’s really important to recognise that we are all made up of many things, and are oppressed and exploited in many ways, not just as disabled people. We are parents, immigrants, women, workers, carers – on and on. We can’t separate out these different parts, and we shouldn’t. It’s the platform we use to identify common ground and build collective responses.

What’s next for DPAC?

We are lucky to have such a committed, creative group of activists, so it’s a long list. We are gathering evidence of cuts to people’s support as a result of the closure of the independent living fund. We are also preparing for the visit of the UN special rapporteur on disability to investigate potential human rights abuses of disabled people as a result of austerity. We are campaigning with Not Dead Yet to oppose the assisted dying bill and going to Manchester for the Tory conference. We’re also speaking to transport groups and workers about a new campaign around accessible transport.

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Emma Hughes is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective. She also works as a campaigner with environmental justice organisation Platform.

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