Disabled people march in Norwich over government cuts

Disabled people and their families came to Norwich from all parts of the region today to take part in a protest march and rally against government cuts.

More than 200 protesters, including wheelchair users and visually impaired people with guide dogs and white sticks, gathered in Chapelfield Gardens at 11.30am, with a placard-waving march around nearby streets beginning at noon.

The rally was one of several organised around the country by Hardest Hit, a consortium of 40 disability organisations.

The event ended with passionate speeches by disabled people highlighting the impact of government plans on individuals' lives.

Mark Harrison, chief executive of Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People (NCODP), said cuts to local authorities' funding already posed a 'huge problem' to disabled people.

'Sensory support services which enable deaf and blind people to live independently in the community have been cut by 60pc in Norfolk,' he said.

'One blind woman in north Norfolk told me it has left her like a prisoner in her home.'

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He said the government's plan to scrap disability living allowance and replace it with personal independence payments - cutting the pot by 20pc - was also hugely worrying.

He said: 'They are replacing a benefit disabled people rely on for access to the world - just to get out of their houses - by one with highly medicalised and inappropriate tests to judge whether they are eligible.'

Mr Harrison highlighted the fact disabled people were already 20pc worse off than the abled bodied because of the costs of living with disability.

He added that by the government's own figures, disability living allowance had the lowest rate of fraud of any benefit.

The chairman of NCODP, Kathy Saunders, who travelled from King's Lynn, said: 'We are asking the government to keep its promise that disabled people will be protected and people won't be forced into poverty if they are unable to work.'

She said she had heard of countless hardship cases, including people who relied on home help just to get them out of bed having their hours reduced from 15 to five because of social services cuts.

Stuart Thompson, campaigns officer for Mencap, said all disabled people trying to access the new personal independence payments would be subjected to a face-to-face interview - a daunting prospect for someone with a learning disability who might struggle to convey the range of ways it affected them.

Kate Wyatt, of North Elmham, near Dereham, who has had multiple sclerosis for 30 years, said the effects of the disease fluctuated, and someone in a period of remission might be excluded from benefit unfairly.

Siobhan Meade, of Gorleston, brought her guide dog Mac to the rally and highlighted just how much the sensory support services, now being cut, had helped her with everything from learning how to use mobility aids to becoming familiar with local routes to the shops.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: 'This Government is absolutely committed to supporting disabled people and we continue to spend more than �40 billion a year on disabled people and their services.

'However, the current benefit system is not always reaching those who need it most, which is why we will be introducing the new personal independence payment to ensure people get the right levels of support.'