Last Wednesday marked the first anniversary of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, and to celebrate (ahem) this momentous date, thousands of disabled people and their supporters took to the streets of London in an angry and powerful protest against the government’s planned welfare and healthcare cuts; cuts which are set to have a disproportionately negative effect on those claiming disability benefits and/or those with particular social care needs.
Supported by the forty plus charities and organisations that make up the Disability Benefits Consortium, Wednesday’s Hardest Hit march and rally was probably the largest demonstration of its kind ever seen in London, with protesters coming from all over the UK to take part – despite the challenges many of them faced in getting to the capital.
Personally, I marched because I’ve fought (and am still fighting) my own battles with long-term chronic ill health – and I’ve also had to fight simply to get the treatment I need. Things have been difficult for the sick and disabled for a long time, but the possible outcome of this government’s crass, cruel and ill-thought-out welfare and health policy frightens me.
Marching with others who feel as I do was, unsurprisingly, a profoundly powerful experience – and the sheer numbers and depth of feeling on the streets of Westminster were inspiring and empowering for many of the protesters I spoke to on Wednesday.
But the Hardest Hit demo is only the start. Giving voice to the voiceless for one day is not enough: the campaign must continue. Only time will tell whether this peaceful, passionate protest has had any impact on the ConDem way of thinking at all, but we can’t let them shut us up in the process…
Extra special thanks to the staff, volunteers and service users of the Mind contingent for their kind and friendly welcome to me on the march (and for the colourful Mind t-shirt – which I will wear with pride!).