If you’re tempted, head over to the Facebook event where loads of people have posted to find people in their area. Get in touch and order some leaflets, and let us know what you plan so we can help let others know about it!
So here’s what happened when two campaigners took to the streets in Newcastle to highlight that people on sickness and disability benefits can now be forced to do workfare.
Despite snow at home, Newcastle was rather more sheltered, which wrapped up or not, I was grateful for since I would be sitting down outside for a few hours. We’d picked ‘Grey’s Monument which is appropriately a monument to Charles, Earl Grey, the great 19th century political reformer and champion of civil liberties and which also acts as Newcastle’s answer to Speaker’s Corner. There were plenty of people about, and our placard with it’s bright blue disability logo got heads turning, even before my husband decided to start shouting slogans. David, who isn’t built like Brian Blessed for nothing, bawling in his best street-hawker’s manner, “Mandatory Workfare for disabled people starts today- Scrap it now!” got a fair few heads turning.
We had warned the police in advance that we would be there so there was no bother with officialdom – one bobby kept an eye on us for a bit, but meandered off once he realised we didn’t intend to set fire to any civic monuments.
The public were by and large very interested given there were just two of us and our cry of “Workfare is slavery” earned us the heartfelt response, “Damn right!” from a passer-by. Several people came up to to find out more about the protest, commiserate with the general attitude towards disabled people, or congratulate us for getting involved.
Most folk we spoke to seemed to know at least something about the iniquities of ATOS and the Work Capability Assessments and to be genuinely horrified at the possibility of sick and disabled people being mandated to Workfare or sanctioned for non-compliance, even though this ‘non- compliance’ might actually be due to an inability to do the work ‘offered’ by the DWP.
We wheeled out some of the more worrying statistics that exist even before disabled people have been mandated onto work schemes; the fact that 32 deaths a week in the Work Related Activity Group suggests that some very sick people who should clearly be in the Support Group of ESA could be potentially be forced into unpaid labour which could have fatal consequences and the fact that incurring a sanction would leave a disabled person with only £28 per week to live on.
Predictably we had the odd one or two who were largely sympathetic but excused the Government’s actions on the grounds that they were forced to it by the need to weed out fraud but in general, the folk we spoke to were extremely supportive and interested, those who were already aware of the ATOS assessments or even of proposed disability workfare listened avidly and we really felt that we got noticed by people who might otherwise barely have registered such a change.
At one point a rather belligerent chap on a mobility scooter threatened to get us moved on because we were telling lies about the DWP who had assured him that HIS disabled wife would not be made to work. I was more worried by the freelance photographer who wanted to take a picture of us to sell to the Daily Mail. I refrained from pointing out that the Mail don’t want pictures of real disabled people spoiling the myth of 75% scroungers and declined the offer of that sort of publicity as politely as possible!
We had a couple of coffee breaks in the indoor shopping centre to thaw out but got a good couple of hours in between our start at 11 and finish at 2pm. All in all, it was very relaxed and enjoyable and Newcastle’s usual spirit of goodwill and desire to chat to anyone and everyone, made us feel that the word really WOULD be passed on that Workfare Isn’t Working!
What will you do in the Week of Action Against Workfare?