Disabled people protesting against benefit cuts in Islington last year (Pic: Guy Smallman)
Disabled campaigners have planned a week of protests against Atos to coincide with the start of the Paralympic Games
The Paralympics will not be the only games in town this week. Today sees the start of “The Atos Games“, a week of protest led by disabled activists against the Paralympic sponsors who, we say, are responsible for ruining the lives of countless disabled people throughout the country.
Atos’s work capability assessment (WCA), the test that determines who is eligible for sickness benefits, is a revolving door of assessment, appeal, tribunal, and reassessment and it has produced many horror stories. Recent editions of Dispatches and Panorama have exposed the pain to a wider audience. They documented an Atos “assessor” asking someone who had taken several overdoses why they weren’t dead yet and there are stories of people being forced to walk until they collapse, before being declared “unfit for work”. Some individuals pronounced “fit for work” by Atos are those with serious illnesses, including advanced Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis and an investigation by the Daily Mirror highlighted that 1,100 employment support allowance claimants died after being placed in “work-related activity groups” – that’s 32 a week.
The French IT company’s sponsorship of the Games is, in short, beyond irony.
But Atos is simply doing the government’s dirty work, enforcing George Osborne’s £18bn welfare cuts, the government’s response to a financial crisis caused by the banking sector.
The UK was once a European example of how disabled people’s inclusion, support and equality could be applied, but it is now an example of how fast these basic human rights can be reversed. In two years we have witnessed the closure of the Independent Living Fund, and a huge drop in applications to Access to Work. Basic support from local authorities is being cut to the bone predicating a move back to the threat of institutionalisation and away from independent living, and a move away from the inclusive education for disabled children. The WCA has led to more and more disabled people relying on handouts from family and friends because they are being left without any income and some disabled people losing their homes.
Contrary to what some might say, disabled people have led the struggle against austerity and cutbacks in the UK from the start. The very first Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) protest was back in October 2010 and we were the first to have a synchronised online protest too, pioneering inclusive actions which ensure that people who can’t attend still have their voices heard. Disabled people saw a need for early action at a time when the big disability charities remained silent.
We have worked with UK Uncut to carry out audacious and effective acts of direct action and civil disobedience, shutting down Oxford Circus in opposition to the welfare reform bill. In the culmination of our “Atos Games”, we will be joining forces once more for The Closing Atos Ceremony.
So what are we planning for this week of action? Without giving the game away too much there will be a host of direct actions – from phone jamming to spoof awards.
As the Paralympics approaches we hope to see you on the streets with us.
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