Protestors march through market town in response to MP’s PIP comments

Protestors march through Wymondham in response to MP George Freeman's comments over the Personal Ind

Protestors march through Wymondham in response to MP George Freeman's comments over the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). Picture: STUART ANDERSON - Credit: Archant

Protestors staged a demonstration in response to controversial comments by MP George Freeman over payments to people with disabilities.

About 50 people gathered at Wymondham's Market Cross before marching to the Mid Norfolk MP's constituency office in nearby Damgate Street, chanting 'no more cuts to PIP' and calling for equal rights.

Some of the protestors were bearing placards and banners urging the government to ditch the new personal independence payments (PIPs) and revert to Disability Living Allowance (DLA), which they considered to be a fairer system.

Advocacy group Equal Lives organised the protest after Mr Freeman said in a radio interview that PIP should go to 'the really disabled people who need it' rather than those who were 'taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety'.

Although Mr Freeman later said he regretted the comments, his stance on PIP has come under fire from Labour and groups representing people with disabilities.

Protestors gather in Wymondham in response to MP George Freeman's comments over the Personal Indepen

Protestors gather in Wymondham in response to MP George Freeman's comments over the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). Picture: STUART ANDERSON - Credit: Archant

Mark Harrison, Equal Lives chief executive, said cuts to disability funding needed to stop.

He said: 'The consequences of that are people will die and people will be left prisoners in their own homes, not able to participate in society.'

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Wymondham resident Joy Batley said: 'Somebody in George Freeman's position should think before he speaks. He said he had retracted it but what's said is still said. I feel if we can protest and make people realise what it's like that will make a difference.'

In response to the protest, Mr Freeman said that he never intended to suggest that mental illness wasn't real or debilitating.

Equal Lives chief executive Mark Harrison talks to protestors gathered in Wymondham in response to M

Equal Lives chief executive Mark Harrison talks to protestors gathered in Wymondham in response to MP George Freeman's comments over the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). Picture: STUART ANDERSON - Credit: Archant

He said PIPs were an improvement on the previous system. Mr Freeman said: 'The PIPs are designed to provide those with disabilities a more personal, flexible and specific fund to cover the costs of coping with living at home with their disability - for example the blind who need housing adaptations or those on home dialysis - than the old DSA.

'I have a track record through my work as a local MP and minister helping those affected by disability, dementia and childhood depression and anxiety.'

The protest was supported by the Wymondham Access Group, which campaigns for easier public access for people with disabilities and others.

Protestors gather in Wymondham in response to MP George Freeman's comments over the Personal Indepen

Protestors gather in Wymondham in response to MP George Freeman's comments over the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). Picture: STUART ANDERSON - Credit: Archant

Statement from Mr Freeman in response to the protest

The Personal Independence Plans (PIPs) are designed to provide those with disabilities a more personal, flexible and specific fund to cover the costs of coping with living at home with their disability - for example the blind who need housing adaptations or those on home dialysis - than the old Disability Support Allowance.

This Government is absolutely committed to making sure we get this PIP part of our £50billion per annum Disability budget to those with specific extra reimbursable costs of chronic disability. In explaining this focus of PIPs on last Sunday's radio 5 live talk show I was not in any way intending to suggest mental illness isn't very 'real' or debilitating. It is.

As I know from my own direct personal experience in my own family of the trauma caused by depression, anxiety and the often-connected alcoholism and, as MPs of all parties have paid tribute to,

I have a track record through my work as a local MP and Minister helping those affected by disability, Dementia and childhood depression and anxiety.

I would have liked to explain this to the small group of campaigners at my office today but am out and about my constituency on prior commitments but look forward to continuing to help any constituents with accessing the benefits they need.

Statement from Neil Seach, chairman of the Wymondham Access Group

Wymondham Access Group is working hard to make Wymondham Accessible and Inclusive. We are a town designated as 'dementia friendly' and have a number of volunteer groups and organisations set up to support those who need it.

Invisible disabilities are sometimes the hardest for people to understand, they shouldn't however be discounted or glossed over.

It is hard to believe, whatever the true sentiment behind the words, that the MP of Wymondham could support changes that will result in cuts to some of the most disabled members of his constituency.

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