Wednesday 29 August 2012
By Rory MacKinnon, Corporate Affairs Reporter
Disabled People Against Cuts demonstrators carried a coffin outside the multinational’s London headquarters, reading messages to Atos and memorials for people who have died after being subjected to the government’s hated work capability assessments (WCA) that are carried out by the corporation.
Meanwhile in Cardiff hundreds of protesters held a mass “die-in” around welfare pioneer Aneurin Bevan’s statue, representing disabled people’s deaths from stress, exhaustion or even suicide after dealing with Atos.
And as the Morning Star went to press they were holding a second in an attempt to block Castle Street, a major road in central Cardiff.
In April Citizens Advice confirmed “a number of cases” where people had died shortly after Atos ruled them fit for work, while more than a thousand people in its “work-related activity group” – involving reduced payments and work-focused interviews – in last July’s trials had died by March this year.
Ex-serviceman Jonothan Williams said he was planning to turn out in his old combat jacket and beret, medals and all.
“I’ll do this to show that veterans, those people (David Cameron) calls ‘heroes’ in Parliament, are being ‘Atossed off’ as a thank you for their service and injuries,” he said.
The group’s Cardiff convener Dr Liza van Zyle said they were from many different backgrounds but were all victims of Atos’s assessments.
“Our futures have been destroyed, and we face homelessness and destitution.
“When people are driven to destitution because their benefits are stopped, some commit suicide, some sink into further ill-health – and some decide enough is enough and fight back,” she said.
The International Paralympic Committee’s sponsorship dosh is worth an estimated £100m over the next decade, yet subsidiary Atos Origin makes that much in a single year under its WCA contract with the Department of Work and Pensions.
People who score less than 15 points on its computerised checklist are automatically deemed “fit for work” and lose their incapacity benefit.
Trials last year saw a 70 per cent drop in full benefits and a 30 per cent drop in “unfit for work” assessments, leading critics to accuse Atos of deliberately driving down payouts.
The company has rejected the claim, but earlier this month a Channel 4 programme secretly filmed Atos trainers telling assessors that an approval rate above 13 per cent was “too high.”
Since its launch, more than 300,000 people have appealed against their decisions and 38 per cent have won – with a judicial review on human rights grounds now waiting in the wings.
An Atos spokeswoman told the Morning Star that successful appeals did not mean their assessments were wrong.