Defend Welfare

Wednesday 16th June, DAN (Disabled People’s Direct Action Network), along with members of Manchester Anarchist Federation and Manchester Unemployed Workers Union, took action in Manchester city centre as part of the National Day of Action against the Flexible New Deal called by the No to Welfare Abolition coalition (see defendwelfare.org).

Around 25 activists, mostly from Manchester (although people from Sheffield, Leeds and Lancaster were also involved), and including disabled people with a wide variety of impairments and other benefits claimants, assembled in Portland Street at 2pm to hit the first target, the Beaver House office of A4E, the company who take government contracts to run “workfare” schemes which force benefits claimants into “temporary work placements” for far below the minimum wage, with promises of full-time jobs afterwards which never materialise – effectively using disabled people and other claimants as slave labour, while also claiming credit (and getting public money!) for “clients” of theirs finding jobs, even when A4E themselves had nothing to do with it (and could be said to be actively hindering people from seeking “real” jobs by forcing them to waste time in their offices on “training” and “placements” which lead nowhere).

(A4E also have subsidiaries involved in Israeli-occupied territories in Palestine and have attempted to censor criticism of them on the internet, among many other nasty things. For more information on A4E, see links such as:

http://watchinga4e.blogspot.com/
http://a4esupportingyourfuture.blogspot.com
http://edinburghanarchists.noflag.org.uk
http://johnnyvoid.wordpress.com
http://menmedia.co.uk
http://menmedia.co.uk/news/business

A small group of activists tried to enter the office and demand to speak to the manager of A4E, but were locked out from the inside by staff operating the “automatic” doors, and rejoined the main group outside, picketing the entrance to the office with banners, placards, leaflets (of which we gave out several hundred to workers and passers-by) and chants such as “Real Work for Real Pay”, “We want jobs, not slave labour”, “A4E, not for me, stop exploiting disabled people!” and “welfare not Workfare, Welfare not the Workhouse”.

DAN’s second target was originally going to be the central Jobcentre on ???, but we were tipped off by a last-minute text that Maria Miller, the Tory Minister “for Disabled People”, was going to be at Manchester Town Hall to speak at the Independent Living Awards organised by Breakthrough UK from 4.30pm. Therefore we made a quick change of plans and headed to the Town Hall, where we did some more leafleting and talked to an interested local radio journalist before getting into the Town Hall lobby via the access ramp and demanding to speak to Maria Miller (without, it has to be said, much expectation of actually getting her…)

The second surprise of the day, however, came when Miller, accompanied by the chair of Breakthrough Uk, came down the corridor and ran into our protest, and after being made aware of the situation was willing to speak to us “briefly”, which we managed to stretch out to a good 20 minutes, during which DAN got to ask her several uncomfortable questions, in response to which she displayed a typical politician’s evasion of a straight answer (for example, never giving a clear “yes” in response to being asked if the new government actually had any plans to engage with grass roots disabled people who were actually affected by its policies).

Miller repeatedly claimed she “couldn’t agree with us more”, despite having disagreed minutes previously, and in general seemed to be full of vague assurances and “reassuring” claims that the government was not doing what it is well known to be doing, denying disabled people welfare support and forcing them into “job placements” (a phrase she repeatedly used without clarifying if it meant real jobs) that are completely unsuitable. She claimed that “those genuinely unable to work will not be denied access to welfare benefits”, but declined to acknowledge the fact that many disabled people who would be both able and willing to work if barriers were removed and impairments accommodated are left in limbo, unable to find work that is practically possible for them yet deemed by the government and mainstream media to be “workshy” or “able” but not willing.

While we may not have actually shut down the A4E office, we managed through this action to raise considerable awareness among the Manchester public about the reality behind their shiny corporate facade, and managed a fantastic coup by getting the last-minute tip-off about Maria Miller’s presence at Manchester Town Hall!

Other actions happened as part of the National Day of Action against the Flexible New Deal in Edinburgh (http://www.indymediascotland.org/node/19721), London (http://www.lcap.org.uk/?p=327), Sheffield, Cambridge and elsewhere.

For more information about DAN or to get involved, email danmail-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

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