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UK Uncut joins fight against welfare reform bill

Tax avoidance group forges alliance with disability campaigners in marked strategic shift to stage day of mass civil disobedience

The direct action group UK Uncut has joined disability activists to plan civil disobedience against the welfare reform bill in London this weekend, which they say will bring chaos to the centre of the capital.

Saturday’s action, billed as “hugely daring and disruptive”, is a shift for UK Uncut from previous action against alleged corporate tax avoiders, such as occupying stores run by Vodafone and the Arcadia retail group. It is forming alliances with campaigners against specific spending cuts it views as being, in part, the direct consequence of reduced tax receipts.

As well as joining with Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) for Saturday’, UK Uncut has joined with Fuel Poverty Action, which is planning direct action against energy companies, councils and housing providers, beginning on Friday.

Saturday’s action, labelled “a message from the invisible”, remain secret; those taking part areasked to meet at Holborn tube station on Saturday morning to travel en masse to the location.

A member of DPAC who asked to be identified only as Andy said a “non-violent campaign of mass civil disobedience” would disrupt central London, reminiscent, he said, of protests by disability activists in the 1990s against government cuts and non-accessible public transport, in which people halted traffic in London’s West End by chaining themselves to buses.

Such action was necessary, he said, because the goverment was not listening to disabled people over the welfare reform bill and planned cuts to the disability living allowance, which the charity Mencap believes could lead to 500,000 disabled people losing money.

“We’re seen as an easy target,” Andy said. “It began when they got rid of all those quangos, including groups which help disabled people get their views across.

“Up to now, the voices of disabled people haven’t been heard in this debate. That’s why we feel we have to create a space for our voices. We want to explain what is happening.”

Separately, Fuel Poverty Action has joined UK Uncut to plan events from Friday to Monday against government buildings and the offices of energy companies in London, Leeds and Cambridge, with more promised.

While UK Uncut has existed for little more than a year, its campaigns have given attention on the tactics used by corporations to minimise their tax bills, and the effect this has on government revenue.

The group has targeted Vodafone, which denies claims it saved billions in a tax deal with revenue and customs managers. Lst year, the Commons public accounts committee said HM Revenue & Customs had made secretive “sweetheart” deals with Vodafone and others. UK Uncut has also targeted shops run by Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia fashion retail empire. Green saved tax in 2005 when a £1.2bn dividend was paid to his wife, Tina, who lives in Monaco, rather than to himself.

In March last year, more than 150 UK Uncut supporters occupied part of Fortnum & Mason, in London’s Piccadilly in London, a protest whichthat led to a controversial trial in which 10 people were eventually convicted of aggravated trespass.

The move towards direct action against cuts is a step for what has become one of the UK’s fastest-growing protest groups. UK Uncut is sympathetic to but sepatarate from the Occupy movement, known in the UK for its long-running camp next to St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

Sarah Evans of UK Uncut said the group believed that measures such as the welfare reform bill were unnecessary and unwanted: “Instead of taking serious action against rich companies’ tax-dodging and their fancy corporate lawyers, David Cameron is instead choosing to make the poorest and most isolated pay for the economic crisis they didn’t cause.

“The tax dodged by Vodafone alone is four times as much as the government hopes to save through this devastating bill. “ © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds