Activists cornered Tory Sarah Newton after she criticised “scaremongering” and “myths” about disability benefits in a House of Commons debate
Disability campaigners have confronted a Tory benefits minister in Parliament shouting: “We are dying!” The activists from Disabled People Against Cuts cornered Sarah Newton today after she criticised “scaremongering” and “myths” about disability benefits in a House of Commons debate. Keith Walker, 43, and Paula Peters, 46, could be heard clearly on TV in historic Westminster Hall yelling to the minister for almost a full minute as MPs tried to speak.
Ms Peters, a Unite union Community officer from south east London who has rheumatoid arthritis and bipolar disorder, claimed: “The cuts are a human catastrophe. They have had a tragic human cost and disabled people have died.” Ms Newton stopped to speak to the pair and offered to sit down and discuss their concerns.
The conversation spilled out into the corridor outside the debating hall, where Ms Peters said she discussed a damning report by the United Nations with the MP while security tried to move her on.
The UN Committee on the rights of disabled people last year said the government’s treatment of disabled people was a “human catastrophe”. Ms Peters told the Mirror: “We said to her ‘you don’t care, do you’. She said ‘I do care’.
“We weren’t abusive to her, we weren’t nasty. We just challenged her on the UN staff and the tragic human cost of the cuts.
“Security were trying to get us away from the MP. She was dismissive in her attitude to us. It was a total Tory government response. “We want her to put her money where her mouth is and let’s have that meeting.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “The minister made very clear that she was prepared to speak to the individual about [their] concerns and she stands by that.”
Labour MP Laura Pidcock called the debate to highlight “brutal and gruelling” medical assessments for the disability benefit Personal Independence Payment (PIP). She said one constituent received a letter on Christmas Day telling her she was no longer eligible for the “lifeline”.
Another, she said, said living on disability benefits was “like being in an abusive relationship with the state.” But Ms Newton told MPs: “People have been scaremongering. They do not remember that people on disability benefits are exempt from the benefits freezes, and that their benefits will rise again this year.”
The minister vowed to “bust the myth” that only Labour founded the welfare state, saying: “It is simply not fair to say Conservatives think disabled people are scroungers.” PIP pays up to £141 a week to help with the everyday costs of a disability.
Of 526,000 DLA claimants reassessed for PIP up to October 2016, 21% were rejected and 23% ended up worse off financially. Others ended up better off financially under the system.
Ms Newton admitted “there are problems” with the assessment system but added: “Hundreds of thousands more people are now getting support as a result of PIP than with DLA.”
Ms Pidcock met the activists after the confrontation and said she was “completely impressed by them”. She added: “The minister’s response was pathetic – it was drivel.”