I'd Rather Die Than Go Back Into An Institution

The words above were spoken yesterday by an elderly gentleman in a wheelchair chained to 19 other wheelchair users, as they blocked Regent Street/Oxford Circus in London yesterday (28th January), in protest against the government's plans to cut welfare benefits from the disabled as part of their Welfare Rights Bill currently going through the Lords.

Click to go to Guardian reportThe interview with a Sky News reporter took place on Regent Street/Oxford Circus in London which brought the traffic to a standstill for two hours, only to be halted by the disabled wheelchair users unlocking the chains which held 20 disabled people together across one of London's busiest streets.

With dignity and in a lot of pain, men and women from the disabled community across the country, gathered to get their voices heard by a media and a public who are indifferent at best and hostile at worst to the plight of some of the most vulnerable in our society.

One blogger and Twitter user from the North West by the name of @bendygirl, a major campaigner on the rights of the disabled who took Ed Milliband to task at last years Labour Party Conference over the way in which the party was ignoring the needs of the disabled; reported on the protest action:

"The protestors chained themselves together at approximately midday, and were soon surrounded by slightly bemused looking police officers.

It was heartening to see Sky News report the views of protestors, and include the statement from one gentleman that he 'wished no animosity to the police' but to explain the sweeping cuts to disability services, from social care, to the scrapping of the ILF, to welfare cuts meant his ability to live independently was at risk and that he'd "rather die than go back into an institution"

This report was particularly moving because the gentleman speaking appeared to be old enough to have either lived in institutions or to have grown up with the threat of being forced to live in one."

Her blog entitled, 'Benefit Scrounging Scum - Life in a broken bureaucracy with a bendy and borked body'; continues:

"At 2pm, having made their point the protestors unchained themselves and dispersed.

This protest was only in part to do with the welfare cuts. They are just one of the issues currently creating a 'perfect storm' facing disabled people.

Regardless of your beliefs about the deficit and welfare cuts, this protest was particularly intended to highlight how the media representation of disabled people has changed over the past few years, that public perception of disability has altered as a result of that to be less sympathetic to the needs of disabled, sick and older people, and that in the past 12 months alone disability hate crime has risen by a horrifying 75%."

Click to go to Basildon BC websiteSadly most of the public do not understand, know the facts, or give a damn about some of the most vulnerable people in our society, with one passer-by at the protest accusing 20 wheelchair bound people of being from "rent-a-mob".

Even worse a Tory councillor on Basildon Borough Council in Essex, @CllrMackenzie tweeted: "I hear there are a bunch of unwashed people at Oxford and Regent Street, if you don't like capitalism move to North Korea"

It is easy to underestimate the courage of those disabled people who took part, the pain they endured; and the tens of thousands of disabled who were unable to attend due to their financial circumstances and condition of their health.

Many attending risked their health in order to try and publicise their argument over the injustice of the cuts and to show the public that they are not the demons the media would have everyone believe disabled people are. They came from Scotland, Birmingham, and the South East to mention but a few areas.

Latentexistence - click the pic!Disabled wheelchair user, Steven Sumpter known as @Latentexistence on Twitter, used the social networking website to keep in touch with supporters and the disabled community as he traveled home from the demonstration.

In what was clearly a painful and distressing time for him, his journey highlighted the plight of disabled people when having to use public transport, and the things that go wrong.

Here is a short timeline of his tweets as he traveled home:

"Wr have a 90 minuter wait Arty Paddington now, might try to sleep here."

"Well this is fun. Evesham station is unmanned (which we knew) but there will be no conductor there to put the ramp in place. I sort of expected the assistance booking line to know that."

"I'm on a train, somebody might let me off at the other end... Oh, and there is no wheelchair space in this train. I've parked in a doorway."

"Never had so much pain while on this much codeine. I am so screwed. On train but can't move."

"It was worth it, wasn't it? We achieved something worth this pain?

On finally arriving at his destination, the train conductor was unable to release the ramp to let him and his wheelchair exit the train. A carer who met him off the train posted this tweet:

"Just met @latentexistence from train. Assistance fail. Had to lift him from 1 chair to another then get powerchair off train. He is very ill!"

"I had to be carried off the train because I couldn't even operate my wheelchair. Doesn't matter, train staff couldn't operate the ramp!"

The precarious situation became better known this morning when this was posted:

"@latentexistence I don't suppose you were aware that we nearly dropped you under the train?”

To which he replied: "Bloody hell. Glad I was oblivious!"

But the true cost to Steve's health can only be known by his family. Here is just a small taster of what he is going through:

Video footage is available here from ITN along with a powerful, moving film made by the Guardian's John Domoko's.

Mainstream media coverage was scant, with the BBC preferring to give 180 seconds to a report on bird watching in peoples gardens, and a demo of disabled people blocking traffic for several hours in central London less than 15 seconds!

Typically, the BBC and others, who are accused of colluding with the government by many as a result of the non-reporting of both the protests against the Welfare Rights Bill and the Health Care Services Bill; seem unable to report unless there is violence, damage to property and protracted disturbance.

This protest of 'wheelchair' activists was, in the words of Adam Lotun from Disabled People Against Cuts, was just organised "delicate disruption".

Read: Blog Benefit Scrounging Scum here

Read: Guardian report here

Watch: BBC News video report here

See also: Spartacus Report Into Disability Benefit Reform Supports CWU Disabled Members

Source: Bendygirl / Latentexistence / The Guardian / ITV News / Flicker / Sky News / BBC news

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