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Obituary: Disability rights campaigner Patrick Lynch took on the government

‘Stubborn and kind’ Barnsbury activist made national headlines over benefit assessments battle

21 June, 2019 — By Emily Finch

Patrick Lynch, who has died aged 60, regularly featured in the Tribune as a commentator offering a nuanced perspective on discrimination

PATRICK Lynch was so determined to improve the lives of disabled people that he took the government to court over his benefits test. The disability rights campaigner and Labour activist has died aged 60.

Mr Lynch, from Barnsbury, was a committee member and long-standing volunteer at Disability Action in Islington (DAI), which supports disabled residents with their benefit claims and informs them of their rights. He regularly featured in the Tribune as a commentator offering a nuanced perspective as a wheelchair user who faced daily discrimination.

In the pictures we took of him, he always made sure to raise the seat of his wheelchair.

“He was proud and wanted to be on the same level as everyone else,” said his close friend Stephen Paterson.

In 2012, Mr Lynch made national headlines for being the first person to take the government to court over their benefit assessments which found him fit to work just five months after major brain surgery. He said Atos – the private firm contracted by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to perform assessment tests – did not provide him with equipment to record his interviews. This was despite promises from government ministers that anyone could have their assessments recorded.

He was supported by his MP, Emily Thornberry, and would later go on to work with her at her offices in Westminster.

Before that, he had spent years working for homelessness organisations including New Horizon in King’s Cross and Centre Point.

He also worked at Cardinal Hume Centre at Westminster and became an advisor for Citizens Advice.

A condition affecting his brain saw him become a wheelchair user in 2009, which is when he met fellow disability rights campaigner Andy Greene, who is now the manager at DAI based in Canonbury.

The two men, alongside hundreds of others, effectively “shut down” the roads around Oxford Circus and Trafalgar Square in 2012 to protest the DWP’s benefit assessments for disabled people.

Mr Lynch suffered a fractured shoulder but that didn’t stop him from attending demonstrations.

Mr Paterson said: “He was looking to sue the police. I’ve never seen so many people protesting in one place and Patrick said to me: ‘By the way, I loved this’.”

After returning from another rally outside the Tory conference in Manchester, Mr Lynch, who had never been to university, decided to undertake a degree in law with Birkbeck University. He was just a year away from graduating when he died.

He was also a keen volunteer with the Barnsbury Housing Association where he lived.

Chairman Martyn Waring paid tribute to his colleague and said: “Patrick brought to our proceedings a keen awareness and understanding of disadvantage and a desire to ensure all residents were treated fairly and with respect.”

Mr Lynch was born in County Roscommon, Ireland, and trained to be a priest. He moved to Bristol around 30 years ago before settling in Islington.

He was described as “stubborn and kind” by his friends this week. When he turned 60 just last month his friends presented him with a bright green cake – his first ever birthday cake.

He died peacefully in his sleep while on holiday in Aberdeen on June 2. Friends and family are invited to his funeral mass at St John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Duncan Terrace on June 25 at 10am with the cremation service at 12pm at Hendon Cemetery.

The wake will be from 2pm at the Alwyne Castle in St Pauls Road. The venues are wheelchair accessible. Any donations will go to a local charity.

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