Disabled People Against Cuts: driving for change

On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we wanted to highlight an organisation fighting for change for disable people.

Disabled People Against Cuts is one of the most outspoken and influential disability rights organisations campaigning today. To tell us more about its origins, standpoint and recent work with the United Nations, Linda Burnip answers questions from Fleur Perry.

Could you introduce yourself to our readers?

I’m one of the original co-founders of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), but really I’m just a small cog in the overall machine that makes up the DPAC steering group and membership. I’m both a disabled person and mother of a disabled person, and I feel that gives me quite a wide overview of the types of barriers disabled people face in their everyday lives.

How did DPAC start?

DAPC started in October 2010 when we lead a march at the Tory Party Conference protest in Birmingham. Committed to our cause, we and our supporters marched in the pouring rain, which was so bad our original banner was destroyed. At the time there wasn’t any real opposition led by disabled people to the detrimental policies that the Tories had announced in the June budget of that year. From that point on DPAC just grew and grew.

We are UK based, but we know that disabled people around the world are also facing similar attacks against their human rights, so we work with a number of international groups.

How would you describe DPAC’s approach to driving change?

DPAC is firmly rooted in the traditions of the social model of disability and we are also determined to fight for real systemic change that will see disabled people being part of and included in mainstream society. While the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and Equality Act 2010 have given some improved access to buildings and venues, and disabled people are now far less likely to be viewed as a fire risk and refused entry to places, we do not feel that there has yet been any real change in societal attitudes and views of disabled people.

Some members of DPAC have been very critical of the more established disability focussed charities and organisations, why is this?

DPAC believes in rights not charity, and like the original disabled people’s movement 40 years ago, we believe that there would be nothing about us without us, i.e. without disabled people at the heart. It is important that disabled people are empowered to speak and act for themselves, rather than just having larger ‘for’ disability charities speaking for us.

We’re also concerned that many of the larger disability charities lack true independence in lobbying, as many are funded through government grants or reliant on government funding in other ways. I think given the amounts of money and resources they have, they have failed miserably so far in effectively lobbying for disabled people’s human rights.

Another issue is that many of the disability charities are involved in running both segregated care homes and schools, which we would not support. My personal view is that until segregated education ends, disabled people will never be fully included in society as the systemic change needed for that will not happen.

How can you educate disabled people in a segregated environment and then expect them to integrate fully in society on leaving school? And if non-disabled people have never had any experience in school of mixing with disabled children, how can they learn to mix with disabled adults as equals? For me inclusive education is the key to real change.

Similarly with segregated living, disabled people being shut away in care homes largely out of sight and out of mind cannot lead to disabled people being fully included in society.

DPAC has played a key role in highlighting breaches of disability rights to the United Nations. How did you report these breaches, what were they, and what do you hope the outcome will be?

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) includes a set of Articles (rules almost) on the rights of disabled people. The Westminster Parliament signed up to respect those rights included in the convention, and they also gave formal consent to Optional Protocol 8th June 2009, which is a very important route for people to challenge any violation of rights by governments or authorities against the UNCRPD.

While anyone in any country can challenge governments through the UNCRPD, an inquiry by the UNCRPD committee can only be conducted under the Optional Protocol and only if that country (or state party) has ratified it. DPAC used the Optional Protocol to initiate a current inquiry into the UK because we saw violations of the rights and that disabled peoples’ rights are going backwards (retrogression of rights).

DPAC initiated the UNCRPD Inquiry using Article 6 of the Optional Protocol, meaning that a formal process was carried out by DPAC to submit complaints and submissions. This process meant that documents needed to be written in a particular way with attention to specific Articles within the UNCRPD and that strong evidence needed to be framed accordingly. The use of the UNCRPD Optional Protocol is always a formal process with strict guidelines. It’s not something that people can do by accident or by sending through lists of media articles.

Shamefully for the Conservative government, this is the very first ever inquiry of this kind into any country using Article 6 of the Optional Protocol. Though inquiries have been conducted for individual complaints previously in other countries, this is the first to be against a state party for grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s human rights.

It’s been a lengthy process since DPAC first contacted the UN in 2012. We made our first submission to the UNCRPD committee in 2013 and since then we have been providing further reports and submissions. We had to prove to the committee that there were severe and systematic (continuous and built into system of welfare ‘reform’ policies) violations of rights enshrined in the UNCRPD. We also had to provide strong evidence of retrogression for the inquiry process to happen.

The submission had to be placed in the context of the overall situation in the UK. There were over 30 violations of disabled people’s rights originally listed for the UN, with specific emphasis on the loss of the right to independent living and the horrors people were facing through the Work Capability Assessment process.

We’re not expecting that the UN can force the government to make any major changes to their policies – they can only make recommendations – but everything that people testify to will always be a permanent record of the atrocities that disabled people have faced. Any recommendations will also be something that can be used for future campaigning. We also hope to shame them, though we hold out no hope that they can be shamed in any way as they seem to be shameless.

What have been the best and worst moments for the disability rights movement as a whole over the past 5 years?

The best moments for us are always when we take part in on-street protests. The attempt to storm parliament in June to protest about the closure of the Independent Living Fund in England was very exhilarating.

Knowing that the work and research we have put in for the last two and a half years will now result in the UN inquiry is also a good point.

The worst moments have to be when the Conservatives were re-elected and the release of the budget that followed, which will have further devastating impacts on disabled people’s incomes after 2017 and will make it much more difficult for young disabled people to take part in higher education.

From 2017, the Conservatives intend to make ESA new claimants placed in the Work Related Activity Group the same amount as Job Seekers Allowance payments, which will take away £30 a week from disabled claimants, in spite of people having extra costs to pay because of their impairments.

There’s also plans to change Disabled Students Allowance so that items such as computers and software have to be provided by higher education establishments. Plus, planned changes to remove entitlement to Housing Benefits for those under 25 will impact negatively on young disabled people being able to attend university.

What are your hopes and fears for the next 5 years?

My fears are that local government and therefore social care budgets on which disabled people rely will continue to be slashed even further than they already have been. I also worry about how much more harm the Conservatives can do to disabled people’ lives in that time. In their first term of office almost 30 years growth in disability rights have disappeared.

My hopes are that Labour will become a vociferous and powerful opposition party, which it failed to be during the previous government, and that it will fight for our rights in parliament. We have always had the support of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, who now are obviously in positions to influence Labour party policies.

I also hope for a future where disabled people no longer have to live in fear on a daily basis. Real fear of brown envelopes from DWP arriving and stripping them of their vital income. Real fear that whenever their care packages are re-assessed their care funding may be cut and their lives left no longer worth living. Real fear of not being able to keep up with the demands made on them by the job centre and that they’ll be sanctioned and left without any money for food or heating.

What would be your advice to people in that situation?

My advice to anyone in this situation would be read the paperwork before you fill in the form and send as much evidence as you can. If your claim fails, challenge this.

Sadly it is more difficult to do so with Employment Support Allowance as you no longer have an automatic right to appeal. You instead have to first seek a mandatory reconsideration, during which time you cannot receive any money unless you claim Job Seekers Allowance and there is no time limit to how long this process will take. By claiming Job Seekers Allowance of course you are also saying you are fit and able to work, so it is now a Catch 22 situation. But it’s important, no matter what, that we keep fighting, or change will never happen.

How can people get involved in DPAC?

We’re on twitter, @dis_ppl_protest, and we have a Facebook group, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), which offers a lot of peer support. You can also can subscribe for updates on our website and even join us as a formal member. We have a number of local groups across the country, and we have thousands of informal supporters too.

We not only do visible protests, but also research and analysis of reports, provide peer support and sign posting to relevant organisations, have a legal referral system to support people to make legal challenges and we welcome input from people with all of those things. Anyone who would like to get more involved can email us at

By Fleur Perry

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