Published on Wednesday 29 August 2012 06:00
DISABLED people in Sheffield put on a united front against the government’s chosen Paralympics sponsor.
Protestors from the city’s branch of UK Uncut, Disabled People Against Cuts and the Mental Health Action Group stormed the steps outside Hartshead Square’s Jobcentre Plus, home to Atos healthcare offices, ahead of the Paralympics launch today.
The event was one of 20 days of action which took place across the UK.
They were organised to highlight the government’s decision to make Atos – the firm tasked with carrying out work capability assessments for people with disabilities – the official sponsor of the games.
Thousands of people in Sheffield stand to be affected by the fit-for-work tests, with many already lodging appeals against cuts to the cash they receive.
David Kirkham, leader of UK Uncut in Sheffield, delivered an impassioned speech to crowds of disabled people, carers, families and campaigners at the protest dubbed the ‘Atos closing ceremony’.
He said: “Atos is an unfit for work private sector company charged with stopping money and benefits for vulnerable and disabled people in this country.
“The Paralympics is about being the best you can be but the government and Atos using that to point the finger at disabled people. The Paralympics is about being all you can be, not forced into a workplace which is not fit to have you.
“We have doctors who take a holistic approach to sickness and disability. Instead that is being replaced with a 15-minute box-checking test.”
Lynne Newark, a volunteer benefits adviser at Firth Park Advice Centre, Sheffield, said: “Often when people come to us they are desperate. There are certain categories of people, like those in chronic pain or with mental health issues where the disability is harder to recognise, being told they are fit for work.”
Dave Hayes, 60, of Heeley, Sheffield said: “I’m here because my wife has been through the so-called Atos medical, which is not a medical but about hitting targets. National Insurance is there to protect the most vulnerable in society and that is a philosophy Atos does not recognise. I speak from personal experience – I know what people have to go through.”