Disabled activists occupied the Department for Work and Pensions today in a daring act of defiance against government plans to cut their benefits.
The surprise action followed a hundreds-strong protest outside welfare profiteer Atos’s headquarters in Triton Square, London, at 12.45pm that marked the grand finale of a spectacular week of demonstrations against the “fitness for work” assessors.
At the “closing Atos ceremony” disabled people spoke of how the assessments have put them “in fear of their lives” at the prospect of losing the little money they rely on to get by.
Disability activists including wheelchair users used the distraction to blockade the doors of the department, which has handed Atos a £100 million-a-year contract to boot as many sick and disabled people off their benefits as possible.
Hundreds of disabled people and their supporters from the first protest at Atos HQ then made their way by Tube, bus and taxi to join the disabled activists at the DWP.
They demanded an end to the “fitness for work” assessments, the termination of Atos’s contract and a reversal of the government’s welfare cuts.
The Con-Dem coalition wants to chop the welfare bill by a fifth, despite its own figures showing a fraud rate of less than 0.5 per cent clear alternatives such as clamping down on tax avoidance, campaigners argued.
Disabled People Against Cuts spokeswoman Lydia Foxton said: “We have been targeting Atos but they are just doing the government’s dirty work.
“Cutting welfare is devastating people’s lives and removing dignity, security and independence from thousands of sick and disabled people.
“At the same time David Cameron and his government are using the Paralympics to show themselves to be champions of disabled people. It’s a disgrace.”
The week of action, timed to coincide with the start of the Paralympic Games, began as another Atos victim became the latest to lose their life.
Breast cancer sufferer Cecilia Burns of Strabane, Northern Ireland, was found “fit for work” by Atos assessors and had been campaigning since February to against the decision.
She won her appeal just a few weeks ago but died on Monday.
UK Uncut spokesman Sam Kennard said: “The government are making disabled people a scapegoat for the economic crisis.
“They are being punished with welfare cuts while the banks and big business get off scot-free.
“The government could clamp down on tax avoidance and get back billions. The savings they will make from cutting welfare do not even come close and they are devastating people’s lives.”
Atos and the DWP were unable to at the time of going to press.