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Activists postpone protest after EHRC’s meeting pledge

Disabled activists planning to occupy the equality watchdog’s offices in protest at its failure to stand up for the rights of disabled people hit by government spending cuts have agreed to postpone their action.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) contacted activists from Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) after hearing about the protest, and promised to meet with them to discuss their concerns.

The EHRC has faced repeated criticism from disabled activists over its low profile on disability rights issues since its launch in 2007, but this would have been the first such protest action.

DPAC had told Disability News Service that they planned to occupy the EHRC’s London offices sometime in March, although they said they would not be announcing which day the protest would take place.

They believe the EHRC should be challenging councils that are failing to provide adequate support for disabled people, and backing more legal actions on behalf of disabled people.

They have also pointed to the commission’s failure to speak out on cuts and reforms to disability living allowance (DLA) – and particularly the loss of the mobility component for most people in residential care – as well as problems with the controversial work capability assessment; the closure of the independent living fund to new members; and cuts to housing benefits.

They say all these policies could be challenged as breaches of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, particularly as the commission is monitoring its implementation.

Members were particularly angry at the commission’s failure to fulfil a pledge to contact DPAC to discuss its plans to support disabled people.

Linda Burnip, a founding member of DPAC, said: “Following a threat to occupy their offices, they suddenly got in touch with us. We have postponed [the occupation] pending a meeting. They have given me a list of things they are planning to do.”

She said the EHRC had told her that they were “limited in what they can do and how they do it”.

Before the EHRC’s intervention, Burnip had said: “We expect them to be helping uphold disabled people’s human rights and the UN convention and they are not. They basically might as well not exist.”

An EHRC spokeswoman said: “Our disability programmes director has had a positive discussion with Disabled People Against Cuts about their concerns and we’re planning to meet with them to discuss this issue further.”