Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) - Ontario

Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) - Ontario

May 07, 2014 18:15 ET

From the U.K. to Ottawa: Fighting back against cuts to disability benefits

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - May 7, 2014) - Disabled people need not be victims of government program cuts, Ellen Clifford from the British campaign Disabled Persons Against Cuts (DPAC) told a packed house in Ottawa this evening.

"Disabled people have been deliberately targeted by an ideologically driven government who have tried to hide what they are doing behind a vicious narrative of benefit scroungers," she said. "But we haven't let them get away with it, we have fought them every step."

In the United Kingdom, the Conservative government of David Cameron brought in brutal cuts to programs for unemployed and disabled people. This included a system of "Work Capability Assessments" - outsourced to a for-profit company called Atos - designed to push sick and disabled people off benefits. Because of a strong resistance from DPAC and its community organization and union allies, Atos was forced to end its contract with the government.

"Our wins are testament to our strength when we collectivise our struggle," she said. "Through DPAC, disabled activists have joined up with the wider anti-cuts movement, community organizations and trade unions. We are excited to be coming to Canada to share our story and to unite a global resistance."

Clifford is on a province-wide speaking tour that includes Sudbury, Toronto, Kitchener and Kingston. The tour is organized by the Raise the Rates Campaign, an Ontario anti-poverty campaign jointly organized by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario, the Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty (S-CAP), the Kingston Coalition Against Poverty (K-CAP), Poverty Makes Us Sick in Waterloo and Ottawa, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) and other grassroots anti-poverty groups from across Ontario.

"We are glad to bring to Ontario a speaker from a campaign that has been at the forefront of resisting social cutbacks and the assault on disability benefits in the UK," said John Clarke from the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty. "The Cameron Government there has created an international model that the architects of austerity at Queen's Park look to as they press ahead with their war on the poor. DPAC is coming to Ontario, however, not paint a bleak picture but to join with Raise the Rates in building the fight back against austerity on both sides of the Atlantic."

In Ontario, poverty has been a growing problem. Social assistance rates were cut by Conservative governments in the 1990s and have never been restored. Today, restoring their spending power requires a 55 percent increase. The Liberal government cut vital support such as the Special Diet and Community Start-Up benefits, has attacked disability benefits and allowed the minimum wage to fall further below poverty levels. Raise the Rates is campaigning to restore these cuts and reverse Ontario's dreadful trend of allowing poverty to grow.

"Governments around the world are implementing brutal austerity agendas that target poor people, including those living with disabilities," said Shannon Balla from Poverty Makes Us Sick, Ottawa. "In the face of these concerted attacks, we need to mobilize in our own communities and learn from each other, sharing strategies and celebrating victories. Disabled People Against Cuts is an inspiration to those of us fighting attacks on disability benefits here in Ontario. It is wonderful timing to have them come and share their wisdom as we celebrate the relaunch of the Raise the Rates campaign here in Ottawa. In the face of increasing threats to poor people in this province, we need to build strong, sustainable and powerful resistance locally. The Raise the Rates campaign is an important way to bring together poor people and community and labour allies to push back and fight for economic security for all."

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