DISABLED people gathered on Wearside to raise awareness of the “forgotten victims” of government cuts.
Union officials, councillors, voluntary workers and carers joined disabled people for the Hardest Hit campaign meeting at Sunderland Civic Centre.
It is hoped the event, part of a series across the North East supported by the Northern Public Services Alliance, will provide support to some of the most vulnerable in society as well as challenge ministers’ responses to the financial crisis.
Neil Foster, policy and campaigns officer for the Northern TUC, helped organise the public meeting.
“There is a lot of anxiety out there about the Government cuts,” he said. “You cannot imagine how bad it is until you hear first-hand some of the painful stories.
“There is real concern that disabled people are being ignored and becoming the forgotten victims of the cut backs.”
The meeting heard from Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott, Unison’s regional disabled members’ chair Angela Hamilton and local councillor Dave Allan.
Campaigners’ concerns include the Government’s intention to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA), with the controversial Work Capability Assessments, which many believe will push more disabled people into poverty.
There are also worries over the limiting of the Contributory Employment and Support Allowance to those who have had to give up work due to ill health.
Mr Foster said Sunderland stands to be one of the worst affected areas in the North East, with more than 12,000 people relying on disability support.
“Sunderland has the second highest number of disability benefit claimants in the North East, behind Northumberland,” he said. “These changes are going to hit a lot of people and we want to raise awareness of the problems they are going to experience.”
Helen Coomer, Sunderland Public Services Alliance co-ordinator, said the new measures risk reducing the independence of disabled people and increasing hardship.
“It is morally wrong that ordinary people should pay the price for a crisis caused by a global banking elite,” she said. “Disabled people are the innocent victims in this crisis and should be supported not targeted.”
Coun Allan added: “If you are disabled and worried about your future under this government, then you should add your voice to the Hardest Hit campaign.”