Tory councillor asks why 'unfit to work' people joined NHS march, inspiring outrage from disabled protesters

'I knew I would pay dearly for going, but we have to stand up and say no more – or we will die,' one demonstrator tells The Independent

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A Conservative councillor and special needs teacher sparked a furious reaction after she asked why "unfit to work" disabled people were able to attend a protest march against NHS cuts and privatisation. 

Implying disabled protesters were making false claims about their health to avoid work, Fiona Robson took to Twitter to ask: "How many people claiming to be unfit to work were fit enough to travel to & physically MARCH around London yesterday?!"

It prompted an angry response from disabled marchers, campaign groups and the relatives of the terminally ill.  

Louise James, who has three chronic illnesses, two spinal injuries and borderline personality disorder, told The Independent: "I was there. I was dosed up to my eyeballs on painkillers and anti-sickness [medication], and I had to to rest for over an hour on the kerb until I had the energy to face the journey home.

"I knew I would pay dearly for going, but we have to stand up and say no more – or we will die if they sell the NHS."

Thought to be one of the biggest NHS rallies in history, the Our NHS march brought up to 250,000 people to the streets of London. It came amid warnings of an unprecedented crisis within health services, fuelled by £20 billion worth of cuts scheduled by 2020. 

Katy Macquire, who has high functioning autism and Ehler-Danlos syndrome, also attended the march.

Thousands gather in London for NHS rally to protest against cuts to services

"I am astounded at the ignorant and callous assumption that if someone if able to leave the house they are fit to work," she told The Independent. "I danced even though I knew I would be unable to move later in the day.

"Hidden disabilities are so misunderstood. This is in part because they tend to affect women more profoundly, and women's health concerns are still not taken as seriously, and [also] because we have become conditioned to putting up and shutting up. Being in a crowd of inspirational and courageous women was wonderful and is giving me the strength I need to fight the government."

Ms Macquire added: "I had to leave my last job as my disabilities were ignored and I was treated as if I didn't care about my job. I fought for 18 months to get the minimal support I needed to do and keep my job, but failed as hidden disabilities are so misunderstood."


Andy Greene of Disabled People Against Cuts was also angry about the tweet. 

"This pretty much encapsulates the Conservative attitude towards their fellow human beings," he said. "This is a party which believes you're not terminally ill if you've got more than six months to live. What the Tories don't want is solidarity, people having a voice. Disabled people should not be put off by her comments, but come to sit and stand together in solidarity again and again."

On her website, Ms Robson, a councillor in Carlisle, describes herself as "a secondary school special needs teacher and a committed Christian."

One follower responded on Twitter: "I wonder how your disabled/unfit voters will judge this comment, Fiona? You call yourself Christian. Would Jesus say this?"

Another wrote: "My terminally ill sister, declared fit to work but given till April/May to live, managed 5 minutes [of marching]. Thanks for your interest."

Jeremy Corbyn urges demonstrators to 'defend the NHS with all of your might'

Ms Robson initially stood by her comments, claiming she was not attacking those on benefits and writing : "We are not permitted to ask questions any more at all without being accused of all sorts of things!"

She then added: "Okay, I apologise for offending anyone. I asked a question."

The initial tweet has since been deleted, along with Ms Robson's entire Twitter profile.

Ms Robson did not respond to a request for comment.