Disability rights campaign group Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts (MDPAC) screened messages from Disabled people in England on Monday during the Tory Party Conference from a mobile van.
The sleek, black, video-van – paid for by the 43 supporters through the Crowdfunder campaign – drove around Manchester city centre, blasting the personal stories and stopping at different locations, including as close to the Tory Party Conference security parameter as possible.
Disability rights campaigners wanted to bring the lived experiences of Disabled people to the party conference and to demand change in a safe and inclusive way for those still shielding from Covid-19.
The Meteor met with MDPAC at the protest site in St Peter’s Square. Dennis Queen, the MDPAC spokesperson, said: “The mood is increasingly worried and just because we’re not here doesn’t mean we don’t have an awful lot to say today to the Tory party.
“We would like the public to understand just how much the Tory party is picking on individual oppressed groups and on people who are multiply oppressed, so they are doubly affected.”
She told The Meteor about the fear of the Disabled community brought on by the flu season, coupled with the uncertainty of fuel costs, changes to benefits and an “absolute lack of support and consideration”.
“The prospect of another winter under this government is really terrifying for a lot of Disabled people,” Queen said.
MDPAC member Shabaaz Modammed pointed out the “shameful” statistic from the Office of National Statistics showing three out of five lives lost in the pandemic were Disabled people, while Disabled people make up only one in five of the general population.
“That statistic shames us as a society. We are a caring country,” he said. “Most people understand that Disabled people are suffering—their rights are not being respected, some are forced to choose between heating and eating—people want that to change,” he said.
‘Turkeys must stop voting for Christmas.’
For Dennis Queen, who has left her house only a handful of times since March 2020, seeing the messages from friends and strangers on the mobile van screen for the first time was both emotional and exciting.
“Suddenly, when the van stopped, three Disabled people came out from nowhere and they were all looking at it and taking photos.
“I really hope many Disabled people see it because a lot of people feel really alone and become so isolated, especially since the pandemic.”
Although Queen felt the future under the Tories was hopeless for the Disabled, she urged them to “hold ourselves together as a community”.
“That’s how we’re going to get through this is raising our power and pride together. And let’s hope we can get them out next time.
“Turkeys must stop voting for Christmas. Because it’s ordinary people who are voting them in and it’s us ordinary people who are affected,” she said.
‘We’re part of the community too.’
Queen questioned why the Tories seemed to stigmatise the Disabled through welfare cuts. “We’re part of the community too. With the right support we’re workers too. It doesn’t really make any sense.”
In his March policy paper , Boris Johnson outlined the government’s plan for growth and to “Build Back Better”, including measures to “level up” the country, a slogan repeated eagerly during many Party Conference events in Manchester.
Queen said: “My question is are they building back better without us – because it certainly looks like they might be.”
Other MDPAC members echoed the deep frustration and sense of failure by the government to protect the human rights of Disabled people.
Coinciding with the mobile video protest, youth worker Dominic Hutchins, who has cerebral palsy and is a member of MDPAC, was seen in a viral Twitter video confronting the Conservative MP and Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg about the government’s treatment of Disabled people.
While the van protest lasted only for one day, people’s messages of anger, resilience and dignity of the community facing a prolonged crisis caused by government cuts to welfare rose above the political point-scoring on the ground.
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Feature image: Noora Mykkanen.