Disabled people have explained why they joined thousands of other activists on a march through the streets of Birmingham to protest about the failure of Tory austerity policies.The march took place as the Conservatives held their annual conference in the city, almost six years to the day since huge anti-austerity protests greeted the party when it held a conference just months after winning power in 2010.Among speakers at a rally at the end of the march was Bob Williams-Findlay, one of the founders of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), which was formed after that 2010 march.He welcomed protesters on Sunday to “the birthplace of DPAC” and described how the grassroots organisation had “grown in strength and in numbers” since 2010.He said: “We have taken the fight to the very heart of government… and we are still here.”Williams-Findlay described the impact on disabled people who lose their Motability vehicles after being assessed for their eligibility for the government’s new personal independence payment (PIP).He said having a Motability vehicle “gives you freedom to work, shop and have a life.“Then one day you get a letter saying you are going to be reassessed for PIP – the new god that cures us – and suddenly the whole world is turned upside down because PIP is designed to fail us.“It’s designed to reduce the number of disabled people on benefits.”He told the rally that the government was no better than the Nazi government of the 1930s in Germany and while “they have not killed thousands yet… they have killed, let’s not forget it”.Williams-Findlay said that disabled people who fail their PIP assessment can be “trapped in your home, you might lose your job, you might not be able to take the family out, you might not be able to have a social life”.He added: “Comrades, in my opinion up and down the country there are political prisoners, disabled people trapped in their homes like political prisoners. We have to unite to set them free.”The mass demonstration was organised by the TUC and the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, which was launched in 2013 to provide a national forum for anti-austerity views.Other disabled people who attended the march told Disability News Service their reasons for taking part.Rob Davy-Cripwell, from Birmingham, said it was his first protest.He said the government’s austerity cuts had left him and others feeling isolated, so the protest had allowed him to speak to other people who shared his views.Although he had been “quite lucky” himself, he knew other disabled people who had been affected by PIP assessments and cuts to tax credits.He said: “I have not been affected directly but I don’t think that matters because we are all in it together. A cut to one disabled person is a cut to all of us.”He said he hoped the protest showed the Tory conference “that the decisions they make affect a lot of people.“I really just hope there is some compassion in there somewhere and they really think about their decisions, because it affects everybody, not just the richest one per cent.”Erika Garratt, from Swindon, brought her family to the march.She claims employment and support allowance and says she feels “very vulnerable” because of the stress of waiting to be reassessed.She said: “I am really concerned about the cuts they are making.“They seem to want to demonise people on benefits. It’s not my fault I am ill and it’s not my children’s fault that I am ill, and yet they are suffering.”She said she believed the Conservative party “don’t care about people who are ill or disabled”.She added: “It’s about time that they showed that they cared about all the people in the country and not just the top few per cent, because we are going to end up in the workhouse.“I feel we are almost going down to the Victorian era, with families on the street.“This is all about raising awareness that we need people to come out in force. We have a voice and we deserve to be listened to.”Emma Atkins, a student from Birmingham, said the Tories were “killing people like me in the thousands”.She said: “The cuts are hurting us more disproportionately than anybody else. It’s time they went.”She said she was “angry” about the Conservatives holding their conference in her home town, and added: “I hope they will get the message about how many angry people there are in the country and how badly they are treating everyone.”Paula Bonarius, from Milton Keynes, said she was at the march because she supported re-elected Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.She said: “He’s got our values. We believe socialism is needed in this country.“It’s not only myself, there is a load of disabled people and elderly people who are being left out.“As soon as there are cuts it is going to be disabled people and [so-called] ‘scroungers’ [who are targeted].”Mark Lynes (pictured), from Edgbaston, another Corbyn supporter, said he was “fighting to stop the elimination of disabled people from society”.He said the protest would “show that there is an alternative vision for society”.He said: “Whatever happens to Jeremy Corbyn, there will always be alternative movements.“Also I hope disabled people are able to get back their independence, which they have lost over the last few years.”
SAINTS have announced the signing of Shannon McDonnell until the end of next season.The 27-year-old full back joins from Wests Tigers where he has been since he last played for the champions.Shannon joined Saints at the latter part of the 2014 campaign and played in three games before fracturing his jaw.“It’s clear with Jonny Lomax out for the season and Paul Wellens currently sidelined that we need cover at full back as well as in the backs,” Saints Chief Executive Mike Rush said. “Shannon can cover a number of positions and we’d like to thank Phil Moss at Wests Tigers and his agent Steve Gillis for making it happen.“He did a great job last season and we look forward to welcoming him to St Helens once again.”Shannon started his career at the Tigers and also played for Newcastle Knights in the NRL.He represented New South Wales at Under 19s and was an Australian Junior Kangaroo.In 2011, he moved to Hull KR and two years later joined their rivals at the KC Stadium.As well as making more than 100 career appearances, he played for the Exiles in 2012.He will wear squad number 34.
The 27-year-old won the NRL Dally M award in 2012, a Grand Final with Cronulla Sharks in 2016 and this year has been with French Rugby Union side Toulon.Saints Head Coach Justin Holbrook stated: “I’ve known Ben for some time and am confident that he will add a new dimension to the Saints and is a great capture for Super League. He is a multi-talented and world class rugby league player.“Everyone in the team will benefit from him joining us and are really looking forward to his arrival. The fans also have a lot to look forward to.“Given Ben’s abilities and reputation, his signing was extremely competitive and the Club have done exceptionally well to secure him.“It is not often that players of his calibre become available and the Club has pulled out all the stops to fight off competition from both rugby codes around the world.“I am also grateful for their support to me for my first signing as the new Head Coach.”Ben Barba said: “I feel very privileged to be joining such a historic rugby league club as St.Helens. I was able to meet up with some of the players and key people from the Club at the Magic Weekend and know they are a great set of people. The fans also showed me just how passionate they are.“I wanted to make an early decision so that I can get my family settled in England and kids enrolled at school. I have certainly enjoyed my time in France at Toulon, but I am a rugby league player and St.Helens, especially with Justin Holbrook as head coach, have made me very comfortable with the decision.“I look forward to pulling the Saints’ jersey on and playing besides my new teammates as soon as possible.”Barba is currently the subject of a twelve match ban in the NRL. The initial stance of the RFL is that this also applies to Super League. However, St.Helens will be seeking further and final clarification of this position.Ben played 168 games, scoring 99 tries, in the NRL.He started his career at the North Devils, Mackay, in Queensland before signing with the Canterbury Bulldogs in 2007.He made his representative debut for the Indigenous All Stars in the 2011 All Stars Match – his first of five appearances – and moved to Brisbane on 2014, scoring eight tries in 25 gamesBarba then joined Cronulla and 2016 won the Grand Final after an outstanding season.Ben Barba’s manager, Chris Orr from PSM added: “This is the perfect fit for Ben to reconnect to his rugby league roots. He has had a long affiliation with Justin Holbrook, the new St Helens coach, from their days at the Bulldogs.“The Magic Weekend gave Ben the opportunity to experience the passionate fans of Super League and he loved it and wanted to be part of it immediately.”Image courtesy of Grant Trouville/NRL.COM