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Welfare Reform Bill's Assault on Disabled People - Why I Protested This Weekend

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On Saturday afternoon I, along with a couple of hundred other people, spent two hours sitting in the middle of the road at Oxford Circus.

Why? To draw attention to the cruelty of the government's assault on disabled people in the Welfare Reform Bill, which finishes its journey through parliament this coming week. The government claim that "the most vulnerable will be protected", and the press keep repeating that line.

The thing is, it's not true. The press has a louder voice than those of us on the receiving end of the cuts, so most members of the public believe the government rhetoric to be true and fully support the changes.

The House of Lords have accepted amendments that will slightly dilute some of the cuts, but the government has vowed to undo them when the bill returns to the commons for reviewing these amendments on Wednesday.

The bill originally wanted to limit Contributory Employment and Support Allowance to one year, and the Lords amended this to be a limit of a minimum of two years and to exempt people with cancer from the limit. This still means that if you develop Parkinson's or MS and are still too ill to work after two years and you have a partner who earns more than £7,500 a year that you'll lose your income; but at least two years is better than one, right?

At the moment there's an income support top-up called the Severe Disability Premium for people who are, well, severely disabled. The clue is in the name. The government are removing that. The Lords didn't even put forward an amendment on that one because it would go over the proposed welfare budget.

The government plans to half tax credits for disabled children. This is despite the fact that 40% of disabled children already live in poverty before the cut comes in. The Lords voted on this and agreed to allow the cut.

Then there's Disability Living Allowance (DLA) which the government is abolishing and replacing with a new benefit called Personal Independence Payment (PIP). In doing so they plan to cut the DLA bill by 20% despite the fact that only 0.5% of claims are fraudulent (see the table on page 12 of this pdf). That's half a million genuinely disabled people losing the money we need to pay for things like wheelchairs and assistance to get out of bed.

The government are selling these reforms as being about weeding out fraud: As you can see from the four cuts I've listed, that's not the case. The cuts are about removing support from people who really need it: And I will be one of them.

I have a condition called osteogenesis imperfecta. I've had somewhere between 55 and 60 fractures in my 32 years, mostly before the age of 10 but I had a rather bad 2011 in which I managed five fractures. I'm loath to define myself as 'vulnerable', but most people would consider it an appropriate label for someone who once broke her back by sleeping in an awkward position.

Unless I've got any fractures I can walk a tiny bit and I use a manual wheelchair outside of my flat. For DLA purposes I'm considered "virtually unable to walk". Though I can walk a little bit it places so much stress on my impaired joints that they swell and become immovable quickly.

My joints also dislocate easily and my left knee sometimes pops out of its socket while walking. I once tore a tendon out of a metatarsal - pulling the tip of the bone off with it - simply limping along normally. I'm also wearing my joints out. Doctors hate wheelchairs, they see them as a sign of admitting defeat, but I've been told to use mine more than I do because I'm rapidly wearing my joints out despite still only being in my early 30s.

Because I can walk a tiny bit, even though I shouldn't, I will be losing the higher rate mobility component and with it my Motability car. I will be rendered incapable of getting shopping home because I can't carry shopping and use my hands to propel my manual wheelchair. I will also be unable to bring home the vast amounts of medication I need.

I get the care component of DLA for supervision because my bones break so easily. There is no mention of needing constant supervision in the proposed PIP criteria. Because I can feed myself, even though I once broke my arm eating, I will get no recognition for that. Because I can take myself to the toilet, even though I once broke my leg washing my hands after, I will get no recognition for that. Because I can get myself in and out of the shower, even though I once broke... you get the idea.

It's not just me. There are 500,000 other people with similar stories who'll be losing out too. 500,000 with desperately bleak futures.

So I protested this weekend. Luckily it was all very peaceful, but the need to be heard to stop these reforms was so important that it justified the risk of breaking a bone or two. It wasn't without cost, as most people who've broken a bone can tell you: Old fracture sites hurt in cold weather. Unlike most people; my skeleton is covered in old fracture sites.

Disabled people have been campaigning on this for 18 months. It's taken until this month for campaign groups like UK Uncut and 38 Degrees to join the fight. With the bill finishing its passage this week it looks like the 11th hour attempt to stop the devastating bill is probably too late.

There's a government petition to get the bill paused for review, especially important in the light of the damning Spartacus Report, but in a country of 62 million people only 25,000 care enough about disabled people to take two minutes out of their day to sign. It may have become so late that fighting has become futile but I still can't give up.

Not when I, and thousands like me, have so much to lose.

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