A LEADING campaigner for rights for disabled people has died.
Tributes have poured in for Debbie Jolly, a co-founder of the Disabled People Against Cuts group (DPAC).
Jolly died in hospital on Thursday after a short illness. She was 48.
DPAC was formed in 2010, and became the leading British campaign group to defend disabled people from government cuts and discrimination, with a sister organisation in Scotland, Black Triangle.
Jolly was born and grew up in London’s Bethnal Green but lived in Leicestershire for many years with her family.
After school she attended the University of Leeds where she gained an MA in disability studies.
She edited various academic papers on disability and was a board member of the European Network of Independent Living.
She also worked on developing a directory for independent living in Bulgaria and Turkey.
She worked with disabled people and their organisations in Britain, and on October 3 2010 became co-founder of DPAC and a member of its steering group, a position she held up to her death.
A passionate campaigner for the rights of disabled people, she was highly critical of the large disability charities which she saw, as do other activists, as being a major cause of disabled people’s continuing oppression, and which she believed contributed to the problems in making disabled people voiceless through having non-disabled people speaking for them.
From the start DPAC had a progressive and militant attitude towards its campaigning activities, mobilising disabled people to take direct action by blocking traffic and mounting protests against lack of access to public services, including railway trains and facilities.
Jolly played a leading part with DPAC activist Linda Burnip in instigating a United Nations investigation into the treatment of disabled people in Britain, resulting in a report which found that Britain “had committed grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s human rights.”
The report came under fierce attack from the Tory press, which turned its aggression into personal attacks on the UN envoy who conducted the investigation.
Jolly took part in DPAC protests against Atos, the now disgraced government-appointed contractor responsible for assessing recipients of benefits, whose decisions resulted in disabled people and others facing poverty and destitution.
In March last year, as MPs called for a review of the effects of benefit sanctions, Jolly responded to a query from me: “An independent review is long overdue, the deaths of David Clapson, Mark Wood and countless others were because of the increasing and punitive use of sanctions.
“An inquiry won’t bring them or the documented 10,600 people who died within six weeks of the work assessments back, but the DWP must accept responsibility for what is literally corporate manslaughter through their actions.
“We need the full figures of these crimes to be made public, the full numbers of deaths through these actions and the publication of the 49-60 internal reviews. Any independent review must not gloss over these facts. Sanctions cause starvation and death.
“That is unacceptable anywhere, let alone in the seventh-richest country in the world. It’s not just about looking at sanctions, but scrapping them and bringing those responsible to account through the law courts.”
In September this year during a week of action against austerity, 50 disabled activists from DPAC closed down Westminster Bridge in London in protest at the effects of austerity on disabled people.
Tributes to Jolly began soon after her death.
Andy Greene, a member of the DPAC steering committee, said: “It was an honour to fight alongside her. She was an absolute warrior.”
Linda Burnip wrote on the DPAC website: “Debbie has played a hugely influential part in the development of DPAC since 2010 and she and I have worked together virtually every day since dealing with the day-to-day things that needed to be done to make DPAC the successful campaign group we have become.
“Debbie was one of the main people involved in initiating the UN inquiry into the UK’s grave and systematic violation of disabled people’s human rights which will be a lasting testimony to her life and work.”
Activist and friend Ann Whitehurst said: “Debbie is my beloved comrade and in spirit we will remain together. For her, disabled people are at the centre of challenging capitalism and equality is pivotal to changing society.”