John-Paul Stephenson

Comedians support Manchester demos against NHS and disability welfare cuts

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Francesca Martinez, Robin Ince and Frankie Boyle were amongst those supporting yesterday’s protests in Manchester against cuts to the NHS and disability aid.

Over 50,000 people from across the UK descended upon Manchester yesterday, where the annual Conservative Party conference is being held this week, to protest against cuts and increasing privatisation of the NHS.

TUC leader Frances O’Grady said that 21,000 NHS jobs had been lost in the past three months, and a report, released today, by the Royal College of Nursing claiming that cuts were “jeopardising” patients.

The protests against cuts to the NHS and to disability welfare were supported on Twitter by a range of comedians, including Francesca Martinez.

Martinez, who herself has cerebral palsy, used the event in Manchester to publicise War on Welfare (WOW), a campaign to encourage the Government to undertake an assessment of the impact of their welfare reforms, and “an immediate end to the Work Capability Assessment, as voted for by the British Medical Association.”

Speaking at the petition’s launch in December, Martinez said:  “As a disabled person in the media, I want to help give this issue a voice.

“It’s morally wrong for the government to target those in need instead of saving money by targeting the real causes of this crisis – and close tax loopholes and regulate the financial sector. To me, it’s a human rights issue.

“Ironically, while stating that they want to help disabled people work, the government are actually taking away their independence and making it harder for people to lead fulfilling and productive lives.

“Disabled people have much to offer society but life for many will become about basic survival – and, in one of the richest countries in the world, that is unacceptable.”

The e-petition, which has attracted more than 57,000 names, was supported yesterday by comedians including Doc Brown, Robin Ince, Jeremy Hardy, and Frankie Boyle, who all tweeted the link.

Martinez joked that she was unable to attend yesterday’s protests in Manchester because she was performing at the Komedia in Brighton.

She told Giggle Beats: “Wish I could [have attended] but have a tour date in Brighton which was booked 6 months ago! Wish the Tories would check dates with me first.”

Chief Superintendent John O’Hare of Greater Manchester Police praised protestors and organisers of the event, which passed without major incident.

However, Robin Ince and Mitch Benn both commented on the media coverage of the demos, with Ince highlighting that the absence of violence meant that the protests did not attract significant coverage in the major news broadcasts.

Ince wrote: “Sad that if there had been a bit of criminal damage, then today’s rally would have been a big news story.

“Large peaceful protests that show a depth of feeling but no tabloid outrage angle doesn’t woo TV.

“Isn’t what is going on outrageous enough?”

Mitch Benn, best known for The Now Show, also took to Twitter to comment on BBC’s chief political correspondent Norman Smith’s claim that he was prevented from reporting live about the protests by conference security staff.

Benn wrote: “80000 people marching against the govt is a big deal. The govt sending hired goons to scare the news crews away from it is a MASSIVE deal.”

Security firm G4S later asserted that their “staff were not involved” in preventing Smith from reporting for the BBC.