Thursday, March 3, 2011

Service users finding their protest voice: the new politics of resistance in the UK

All over the UK some of the most disadvantaged and marginalized people are mobilizing against the Cameron Government's austerity measures and cuts to benefits and entitlements. What is occurring in the UK is a remarkable "new politics of opposition and resistance" led by service users, user led groups and those who depend on public services and welfare entitlements who are demanding that banks, corporations and the financial and the corporate elite should be paying for the crises, not ordinary people.

The Cameron Government is pursuing the deepest cuts to public services and welfare entitlements in UK history. Protests, demonstrations, web based organizing, social media campaigns, leafleting, sit-ins and pickets are all being used to expose the cruelty of the Cameron Government's cuts.

People with disabilities and mental health problems, homeless people, welfare recipients, users of public services, students, parent groups, disability groups, anti-poverty groups and other user led groups are outraged that the Cameron Government is attacking those who had least to do with the financial crises whilst rewarding those who caused it.

Before the recent election, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats promised to safeguard the vulnerable, but now they are among the primary targets of government austerity measures. Rather than hold the bankers, financiers and corporate elite responsible for the financial crises, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have given them tax breaks, whilst turning their sights on the most marginalized.

But if the Cameron Government thought people would not fight back they were wrong. What is taking place is a new politics of opposition by service users, welfare recipients and small civil society groups. As Peter Beresford points out service users are co-opting the Government's own rhetoric of "co-production" (where service recipients are involved in designing the services they receive) and the "Big Society" to oppose public policy that targets, excludes and stigmatizes them.

And what is significant is that the target for much of the anger is NGO's (who supposedly represent and provide services to disadvantaged people) who are seen to have abandoned and betrayed the people they claim to represent.

Another target is corporations and banks including those who pay little or no taxes, as well as those providing services to the marginalized. People on welfare benefits, people with disabilities and campaigning groups such as Disabled People against the Cuts, are targeting the Atos Healthcare corporation (and its parent company Atos Origin) because they carry out the controversial assessment of eligibility for out-of-work benefits and work capability tests on behalf of the UK Government. Disabled people and welfare recipients have complained for years about the flawed decision making and injustice of Atos processes, which effectively decide people's eligibility for benefits.

More and more civil society service user groups are mobilizing against the cuts, all of whom have a strong online presence.

Uncut UK coordinates, publicizes and facilitates protest and campaigns against the banks and financial institutions.

False Economy is a campaign and website to document the extent and types of cuts and to support action against the cuts. False Economy aims to provide evidence of the impact  of the cuts.

The agency Disabled People against Cuts (DPAC) which was formed by people with disabilities documents the impact of cuts on people with disabilities and mobilizes people to oppose the cuts. It also runs workshops to assist people build resistance to ATOS and the cuts. 

The Broken of Britain is a  group of people with disabilities who aim to provide a non-partisan representative voice for disabled people affected by the cuts and welfare reform. They also campaign against negative coverage of the disabled.

The Coalition of Resistance provides a clearinghouse and national focus for all the local campaigns being organized against the cuts.

One Million against the Cuts is an online campaign to organize one million people to promote the campaign against the spending cuts.

National Days of Protest against Benefit Cuts are being organized and a People's Convention to Build Resistance to Cuts and Austerity has recently taken place. 

No comments: