DWP faced protesters outside HQ who then blocked Westminster

  • Post last modified:March 4, 2024
  • Reading time:27 mins read

Campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) has launched a new offensive against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – and the group is back with a bang. Dozens of chronically ill and disabled activists and their allies targeted the DWP’s head office – before blocking a main road into Westminster.

Things got ugly as the authoritarian cops tried to shut down the demo – but DPAC held firm, despite police even kettling wheelchair users at one point.

Yet more benefit ‘reforms’

As the Canary previously reported, DPAC has launched a new campaign against the DWP and the government. In last autumn’s budget, chancellor Jeremy Hunt already announced a further clampdown on chronically ill and disabled people. Specifically:

  • Changing the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) to force more chronically ill and disabled people to work from home. This could lead to the DWP stopping hundreds of thousands of people’s benefits.
  • More people the DWP says are fit for work but who it doesn’t think are doing enough to find work will face tougher sanctions and lose things like free prescriptions.
  • The DWP will eventually scrap the WCA altogether, and make the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) health assessment the only judge of people’s illness and impairments. this could lead to over 600,000 people losing their benefits.

All this is on top of whatever Hunt announces in the Spring Budget on Wednesday 6 March. Moreover, all this comes after years of freezes and real-term cuts to benefit rates since 2016.

So, on Monday 4 March DPAC took the fight direct to the DWP’s door.

DPAC: fighting for their rights – right outside the DWP

It started off with chronically ill and disabled people holding office around Caxton House, where the department’s HQ is:

DPAC DWP protest

There were speakers from various groups, like Winvisible which campaigns for chronically ill and disabled women’s rights:

Chants of ‘no more deaths from benefit cuts’ rung out through central London. Placards people held included accusations of “democide” against the government. This is where the state murders its own citizens – either directly, or through policies:

Paula Peters holding a sign saying "democidal government" DWP DPAC

There were also stark reminders that DWP policies have changed very little over the years:


Crucially, Gill Thompson was there. She is the sister of David Clapson, who died at the hands of the DWP after it stopped his benefits. David’s death was one of the earlier, high-profile cases where the DWP catastrophically neglected a claimant. It left David with no food and no electricity – therefore, he could not chill his insulin for his diabetes. David died on 20 July 2013.

Paula Peters from DPAC led the charge against the DWP at the protest. She said that activists were:

representing the… millions of disabled people who couldn’t be here today.

Police: kettling disabled people = complicity with the government

However, they were not just making some noise outside the DWP. Around 30 people then blocked the main road into parliament from the west:

Disabled people blocking a road DPAC DWP

They held the road for over an hour. Blue bibs (pretend cops) tried to move them on. However, disabled activists are well-seasoned, and knew not to speak or engage with them. So, blue bibs had to call the real police – but they also struggled to contain the protest:

people holding a sign reading 'no more benefit deaths' DPAC DWP

However, after an hour the Met Police issued a Section 14; specifically imposing the condition that DPAC had to move onto the pavement. Activists rigorously resisted this:

police trying to move disabled people off a road DWP DPAC

It got to the point where cops even had the temerity to kettle wheelchair users:

police kettling a wheelchair user DWP DPAC

Several activists got extremely distressed – but would still not move:

disabled person being kettled by police

However, there was no repeat of now-infamous scenes from 2015 in parliament, where police were pulling disabled people out of their wheelchairs:

Eventually, DPAC did call it a day – but not before telling the police what they thought of them.

Here’s the thing.

Some things do change

The Canary has been covering DPAC’s actions since 2016. During that time, we’ve seen the group and its allies carry out multiple protests – including occupying parliament, sitting in outside the Tory Party HQ, and blocking roads around Westminster on numerous occasions. The police response (aside form in 2015) had always been the same. That it, cops see disabled people and don’t know quite what to do.

However, under the current authoritarian Tory government (and it’s almost-equally authoritarian counterparts on the Labour benches) protest is now ‘extremism’, apparently – with the UK under ‘mob rule’.

It showed in the police response to DPAC. The Canary cannot recall cops ever using Section 14 powers before – nor can we remember them using kettling as a means to disperse a DPAC protest.

While no arrests were made, it shows the increasing aggression of the UK state. However, this will not deter DPAC and groups like the Chronic Collaboration.

As the latter’s founder Nicola Jeffery told the media:

We are doing what we can to be heard – yet I was threatened with arrest for road-blocking outside Westminster. I was very proud to be standing with who I did today, and I don’t care what the cops says – there are on the wrong side of history. They are complicit in everything that is being done to us, and we need to take a stand. We need to come together.

However, DPAC, the Chronic Collaboration, and other groups will not be deterred.

What will it take to make the DWP change?

Tens of thousands of people have died on the DWP’s watch; hundreds of thousands more due to Tory austerity. This alone gives chronically ill and disabled people a reason to continue to fight the state and system – let alone when you also factor in what the DWP is now planning to do to them.

Enough was enough over a decade ago, when David died at the hands of the department charged with providing him with so-called ‘social security’. That ‘safety net’ does not exist, has not existed for years, and it’s debatable whether it properly ever did.

The UN is currently investigating the UK again under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

However, its last report in 2016 – which accused successive governments of “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights – did little. The government and DWP ignored it, and will likely ignore the UN’s next one.

So, it’s unclear what is needed right now to force the DWP and government to change course over their toxic stance on chronically ill and disabled people.

DPAC: next stop, arrests?

There were mutterings at the DPAC demo of whether or not disabled people need to get arrested just to make a point, and to make at least the media take more notice. This is a contentious issue, though, given the damage police could physically do to chronically ill and disabled protesters. So far, as a tactic it’s not produced tangible results for groups like Extinction Rebellion either.

So for now DPAC’s protests look set to continue.

What chronically ill and disabled activists really need is solidarity from other campaign groups, trade unions, and the public. This will do more in the fight against the DWP than any UN report will do.

DPAC, the Chronic Collaboration, and others will continue regardless. The more people that join them, the less the DWP can ignore them. So, will they see YOU on the streets next time?

Featured image and additional images via the Canary/the Chronic Collaboration

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