Protesters gathered outside Atos’s headquarters before carrying out a “secret action” at the Department for Work and Pensions
Activists staged a protest today against Atos, the controversial firm which sponsors the Paralympics and carries out the Government’s “fit for work” assessments.
Disabled and anti-cuts campaigners have been rallying all over the country for the last week because they claim the tests for people on disability by Atos are “damaging and distressing”.
Today they took their protest to Atos’s London headquarters before carrying out a “secret action” at the Department for Work and Pensions building in central London.
Several protesters got into the DWP building and a further two in wheelchairs chained themselves to the doors, according to UK Uncut, who have been staging the protests together with Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC).
Pictures posted on Twitter showed the group sporting a banner which read “Tax Avoidance = £25 billion, Welfare Cuts = £4.5 billion” outside the DWP’s offices in Caxton House.
Molly Solomons, a spokeswoman for UK Uncut, said around 150 people had taken part in the protest at Atos’s headquarters, with a further 30 moving on to the DWP building.
She said: “We are doing this to highlight that Atos, a sponsor for the Paralympic Games, is receiving £100 million from the Government in the hope they will assess people with disabilities and get them off benefits.
“This is due to a political and ideological choice which harms disabled and sick people, not an economic necessity.
“Today’s action has happened on the same day that Cecilia Burns, a cancer sufferer from Northern Ireland who had her benefits cut by Atos after they said she was fit to work, has died,” she added.
Dubbed the “Closing Atos Ceremony”, today’s protest has been described by organisers as a “grand finale” to a week of protests in 20 cities across the country.
On Tuesday activists cut off traffic with a road blockade in Cardiff and on Wednesday they delivered coffins to Atos.
Atos has held the contract with the DWP for work capability assessments since 1998 and says that doctors and nurses it hires carry out 15,000 face-to-face assessments each week.
A spokeswoman for the French multinational said: “We fully respect people’s right to peaceful protest and we understand this is a highly emotive issue.
“We do not make decisions on people’s benefit entitlement or on welfare policy but we will continue to make sure the service that we provide is as highly professional and compassionate as it can be.
“We do this through a constant programme of training and education for our staff, a rigorous recruitment process for healthcare professionals and those going through the process on the ground.
“At Atos we have proudly supported the Paralympics movement for a decade.
“We hope people will view the Games, as we do, ad an opportunity to celebrate sporting achievements.”
Atos’s contract with the DWP was extended in 2005 and again in 2010, and is due to last until 2015 under current arrangements.
A spokeswoman for the DWP said Locog and the IPC make all decisions on sponsorship for the Paralympics.
She said: “All the partners provide vital funding without which the Games would not happen and they operate within the supplier guidelines.
“It is disappointing that a small number of organisations are protesting against sponsorship of the Paralympic Games, which is an opportunity to showcase the talents of disabled people and act as a catalyst for our sporting talents of the future.”
The spokeswoman said Atos Healthcare, the subsidiary of Atos which holds the work capability assessment contract, does not make decisions about benefit entitlement, which are left to “decision-makers” in the DWP.