We’ll defy welfare reform until the bitter end
Paul Clarendon, a founder member of the Rural Welfare Campaign, says he'll only stop direct action when the persecution ends
Rural voices are rarely heard. Ever since I've been campaigning I've realised the more rural you are the louder you have to shout.
That is how the Rural Welfare Campaign first came about. As a disabled man pensioned off from the health service 10 years ago I know how hard Tory cuts are hitting people especially those in more remote areas.
Disabled people already have a far more difficult life in the Highlands than more populated areas. If you have a disability and you're living in a remote town, things like access to doctors and mobility issues are far more pronounced. So when it comes to the cuts agenda these people are already at breaking point. And they can't take any more.
The campaign uses real stories and case studies to raise awareness of how the cuts regime is affecting people up here disproportionately. We then join with other networks and share our experiences. It builds awareness and importantly gives people a voice, people who have lived most of their lives without needing to fight for what should be a human right.
The hated fit-for-work assessments as well as the personal independent payments’ assessments have created a lot of anxiety and distress among the rural communities. It's much harder for people to get to assessment centres. And if they are late they often get their benefits sanctioned. It's a system designed to catch you out. It puts unfair barriers in people's way hoping they'll fall foul of the requirements and often they do.
It’s tragic when someone has worked all their life then falls foul to illness or redundancy. We need to empathise with these people in our society, not castigate and victimise them. They are not scroungers: they are us. They are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, friends. But the current debate deliberately attempts to make people claiming benefits out as an underclass unworthy of support. It fuels social prejudices and it is, in effect, nothing more than a hate crime.
A lot of support for the campaign has come from JobCentre staff
Foodbanks in the Highlands and Islands are the most used in the country. Increasingly those who are being ostracised by the welfare system turn to them for support. It’s a scandal that is worthy of a Dickensian plot but sadly it’s not fiction, it’s a bitter reality.
We get criticism a lot. The campaign often takes direct action by way of picketing JobCentres and we join with Black Triangle to picket assessment centres. It’s controversial but it’s peaceful and never aggressive.
A lot of support for the campaign has come from JobCentre staff and people involved with the Department for Work and Pensions. It shows how frontline staff object to being used to do the Tory government’s bidding.
It’s our firm belief that the work of anti-cuts campaigners have made Westminster think again. The new welfare powers are a move in the right direction but they don’t go anywhere far enough.
All job-related benefits remain with the UK government so that will remain a major point of contention for our campaign in the year ahead.
Scotland may have achieved some caveats but our fight is just beginning. And it won’t end until we have gained justice for those being victimised by the current Westminster dictatorship.