At a recent union conference, a TUC spokesperson said that DPAC had done more to promote the cause of disabled people in the last two years than the TUC had managed in over 100 years.
DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) held its annual conference on 12 April. The conference followed a good year, with a growing campaign, a focus on direct action, and a significant victory against the vile ATOS. The conference was far bigger than last year: 140 disabled people there, with many reporting this was their first conference. We were told there are now 24 local groups.
The key note speech was from John McDonnell. He highlighted the attitude of most people there to existing mainstream political parties, saying “The Labour Party has been pathetic. Don’t place your faith in politicians”. He got a huge cheer when he told the delegates that DPAC had “destroyed ATOS”.
John also gave a stark illustration of the sheer nastiness of Tory policies. He reported the case of Mark Wood who starved to death in Cameron’s constituency after ‘passing’ a Work Capability Assessment and having his benefit cut. Mark’s GP at the inquest blamed the cut in benefits for his death.
This was just one example. Other delegates talked about the increasing number of suicides amongst those who have had benefits refused or withdrawn.
This is a result of Tory scapegoating of disabled people. Politicians now talk about “genuinely disabled people” to try to give the impression that the rest of us are just scroungers. Sanctions on benefits claimants have now increased from 100,000 per year to over one million. Work Capability Assessments are deliberately degrading, with unqualified people administering them, ignoring medical evidence, and telling people with serious illness or disabilities that they are fit for work.
The growth of DPAC reflects the strength of its campaigning activity. Activists repeated throughout the conference that DPAC had been successful because it was centred on direct action not lobbying. ATOS had given up its Work Capability Assessment contract with the DWP because of the way it had been harried and hounded by DPAC-led protests.
The format of the day reflected this practical focus. There was a very high degree of practical degree of decision-making during the day, a million miles removed from the pattern of rallies and seminar-style events that often characterise events on the left – the events that allow plenty of discussion but carry no formal decision-making. Workshops at the DPAC conference aimed to set up working groups to identify priorities and plan activity going forward. The approach was a very inclusive one.
There were also motions. The steering committee was given the right to expel fascists and racists from DPAC. It was agreed that the steering group would be enlarged to twelve from its current eight. A rather obscure motion aimed at excluding anyone who has accepted an award under the honours system was defeated. The focus of the day, though, was not the motions, but direct action. This is how DPAC has grown, this is how we beat ATOS, this is how we will continue to grow and organise.
Another theme was working with trade unions. It was not just that unions have money which could be used to help fund DPAC. They also have organisations of disabled members who can be at the heart of direct action activities. DPAC already has a good working relationship with the TUC Disabled Workers Committee. Mark Serwotka sent greetings to the Conference on behalf of PCS.
The Conference was summed up in three words: Determination, Courage, and Solidarity. DPAC will continue to ensure that disabled people’s rights are high on the agenda. DPAC has beaten ATOS: one battle won – a war still to win.
Pete & Gill