THOUSANDS of disabled Scots are set to protest in Edinburgh next month in unprecedented opposition to radical welfare reforms.
TFN can reveal that leading disability organisations are using their networks to enlist thousands of disabled people, carers and the public in a mass show of defiance against what they believe are the most regressive reforms to the welfare system since its creation.
A coalition called The Hardest Hit, representing disabled organisations across the UK, is behind the campaign with organisers hoping the wealth of opposition to the proposals may be enough to persuade the UK government to climb down over the most controversial recommendations.
These include the new fitness for work assessments, scraping of mobility allowance and a move to the new Personal Independence Payments, replacing Disability Living Allowance, which are intended to reduce eligibility by 20 per cent.
As the bill is set to receive its final reading in the Lords next month, campaigners say the protests will be make it increasingly difficult for ministers to justify the changes in the face of massive opposition.
The Edinburgh rally, taking place in the capital’s Princes Street Gardens on 22 October, will simultaneously coincide with other protests across all of the UK’s major cities in what organisers believe will be the biggest show of defiance by disabled people ever to take place in the UK.
Ian Brown, of RNIB Scotland, said the reforms were unacceptable on their own but opposition had increased because they were coming on top of cuts in public spending that were already hurting disabled people.
“Enough is enough,” he said. “The protests will be a way of showing how much dissent there is for the reforms. Disabled people find it difficult enough to get by on what they currently get but these reforms are unworkable.”
The Welfare Reform Bill, currently going through Parliament, threatens to decimate the living conditions of people with disabilities, said Brown, and erode a founding principle of the welfare state – that people with disabilities should be able to live with dignity as independently as possible.
He added: “We must speak out against this catastrophic attack on the living conditions of some of our most disadvantaged and vulnerable citizens.
<p1 “It is vital that people with disabilities and all organisations that represent their interests in Scotland make their voices heard on this day.”
Other national charities, including Citizens Advice Scotland, are set to join the protest and dozens of local disability forums and networks have been actively recruiting supporters to the cause and believe the swell of support will be “unprecedented”.
Martin Simon, who represents the North East Disability Network, says the strength of opposition was set to climax at the Edinburgh rally.
“Forums and networks have been busy gathering support over the last month and already it is massive,” he said. “If the activity on social networks is anything to go by then the rally looks set to be the biggest of its kind.”
Sporadic protests have already taken place as changes to disability benefits are implemented.
Last month disabled campaigners protested outside a DWP assessment centre in Edinburgh organised by the Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty, in protest against the now mandatory work interviews for disabled people.
A spokesperson for the DWP said: “Reforming the benefit system aims to make it fairer, more affordable
and better able to tackle poverty, worklessness and welfare dependency.”