Disability rights activists shut down Westminster Bridge in anti-austerity protest

© Jamie Kelsey Fry
Hundreds of disability rights activists brought traffic to a standstill in central London in a protest against Conservative government cuts to disability benefits.

The protest, organized by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), completely shut down Westminster Bridge, a major London route adjacent to the Houses of Parliament, for several hours on Wednesday afternoon.

Demonstrators held up banners with the names and photos of those they say have died as a result of welfare reform. Twitter users reported a standoff with police trying to clear the area for traffic and the protesters refusing to move.

DPAC said in a statement: “Since 2010 deaf and disabled people have been targeted for cuts and seen hard-won rights and freedoms taken away – and as a result, the UK is now the first country to be investigated by the UN for grave and systematic violation of disabled people’s rights.”

The findings of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities investigation will be published in 2017.

“Through all this, while much of Labour was competing with the Tories on who could be the toughest on welfare, Jeremy [Corbyn] and John [McDonnell] stood with disabled people and opposed the cuts,” the DPAC statement read.

The group has been using the hashtag #RightsNotGames, referring to the Paralympics, which kicked off on Wednesday.

Two people have been arrested in connection with the protest for obstructing public order, Scotland Yard told RT.

The bridge was reopened to traffic shortly before 3pm local time.

A barrage of Twitter users sympathetic to the cause voiced their support.

Others, however, were not so pleased, with a handful of users complaining about the traffic.

Richard Benyon, Tory MP for Newbury, chastised the protestors for blocking the road, tweeting “Some bunch of charmers have decided to disrupt millions of Londoners by sitting down on Westminster Bridge.” Benyon later deleted the tweet. 

Between March 2013 and March 2014, the UK saw a 580 percent increase in benefit sanctions against sick and disabled claimants.

Meanwhile, statistics from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) revealed nearly 90 people per month are dying after being declared fit to work by the controversial Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

Earlier this year, the government ditched plans proposed by then-Chancellor George Osborne to slash a further £4.4 billion (US$5.8 billion) from disability benefits. The plan would have seen some 640,000 people who use personal aids around the home lose some or all of their Personal Independence Payment (PIP).