Christopher John Ball Fine Arts Photographer and Writer

DPAC Save the Independent Living Fund – Westminster Abbey Demo June 28th 2014

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Independent Living Fund (ILF) recipients and disabled activists from 'Disabled People Against Cuts' DPAC (of which I am proud to be a member) peacefully occupied part of the grounds outside Westminster Abbey for five hours on Saturday, the 28th June 2014, in protest at plans to close the fund. You can find a selection of images I made during the day by following the link above or here.

As the demonstration got underway, and protesters in wheelchairs locked themselves to fences at the site, supporters on Twitter were given the signal to start to trend the #saveILF hashtag.

MP John McDonnell tweeted the following ‘Congratulations to those who supported DPAC’s ILF protest at Westminster Abbey today. Proud to be with you. Heroes and heroines all.’

Despite a written request, explaining the reasons for our actions and our assurances that we would respect Abbey grounds, the Dean, the Very Rev Dr John Hall, refused permission for us to stay. Sadly, this refusal led to, what looked like, more than 230 officers policing our peaceful protest. In addition to this number, several officers were posted outside and around the Abbey.

From inside the protest, this excessive number of officers felt very threatening indeed. At one point, an officer appears to have been instructed to block a disabled access ramp we had brought. This ‘seemed’ discriminatory as those more mobile could gain access. Whatever the reasons for the police undertaking this particular action, it was a PR disaster for the Met. Thankfully, it was abandoned and the officer moved to allow access to the green.

Officers stood on tenting materials in an attempt to prevent us from pitching them, thus denying us cover from the elements. In addition, for most of the day, no-one was allowed to move in or out of the site, not even to acquire, or be provided with food, medication or even to use toilet facilities.

In an attempt to make an arrest, police chased the individual in question into a Gazebo sheltering several wheelchair users. This action put those within the gazebo in danger and it appears that chairs may have been pushed over. I would request that the Met looks into how it polices actions undertaken involving disabled people.

John McDonnelltweeted updates ‘Looks like Church of England has turned it’s back on the lessons of the Sermon on the Mount as police surround disabled people at Abbey’ and ‘No contact from Dean of Westminster so it looks like at the most iconic site of Christian worship in Britain the Church is evicting disabled’

Financial journalist, broadcaster & public speaker Paul Lewis Tweeted ‘Wonga shareholder calls police to clear disabled protesters off its lawn #saveILF’

This Liberal Democrat/Conservative Coalition are lying to the people, aided by a right wing media, about disabled individuals such as myself. The Coalition has placed scapegoating at the heart of its social and economic policy. It is what drives it, all part of its much trumpeted long term economic plan.

You may be OK with being lied to but I am not happy about being lied about; in fact, I am not sure I can survive it. I very nearly lost someone very close to me, who lives with hidden disabilities and for whom I am primary carer, to Coalition policy in 2013.

Even though we are bearing the brunt of the cuts we have been patient, attempted to debate reasonably with an unreasonable Government, tried the legal process of the courts, forced debate in the House of Commons, Petitioned and yet all the lamentable Iain Duncan Smith does is either ignore us, retrospectively changes laws when he loses, or resorts to lying about us.

This is why, after patiently going through the aforementioned processes, we are finding ourselves forced to undertake more direct action.

Such action is not undertaken lightly, it puts some of us at risk. In my own case, such was the level of pain I was experiencing I found myself having to contend with nausea and dizziness. I am still paying for it now. I know my pain management therapist will not be happy with me when she sees me next. Yes, you may well say that I brought that upon myself by attending the demonstration but desperate people undertake desperate actions. Wrong must always be fought, the truth must always be defended.

I am proud to say I took part, proud to have stood in solidarity with so many brothers and sisters but I couldn’t help looking around and thinking ‘Has it really come to this, in the United Kingdom of all places?’

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