August 31 – Controversial Paralympic sponsor Atos was the target today for protests in London by disability activists angry that the French multi-national IT firm carries out “fit for work” assessments on behalf of the British Government.
Around 150 disabled and anti-cuts campaigners, who have been running a nationwide campaign all week against Atos to coincide with the start of the London 2012 Paralympics, protested at Atos’s headquarters in the capital before carrying out a “secret action” at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) building.
Several protesters got into the DWP building and a further two in wheelchairs chained themselves to the doors, according to UK Uncut, which has been staging the protests together with Disabled People Against Cuts.
“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,” said Molly Solomons, a spokeswoman for UK Uncut.
“This is due to a political and ideological choice which harms disabled and sick people, not an economic necessity.”
Among those involved in the protest were Tara Flood, a former swimmer who won seven Paralympic medals, including a gold at Barcelona in 1992, who has herself recieved a letter notifying her that she will be assessed about whether she is allowed to keep her disability living allowance.
Last week, she took part in a spoof opening ceremony where she was stripped of her Paralympic medals after a mock Atos assessment.
It has been claimed that several members of ParalympicsGB who took part in the Opening Ceremony on Wednesday (August 29) deliberately hid the Atos logos on their accreditation lanyards, although none will confirm this for fear of being expelled from the Games.
ParalympicsGB officials claim that the lanyards had simply been tucked inside the white outfits because they were flapping around in the wind before the athletes entered the stadium.
Atos is the worldwide information technology partner for the Olympic Games and has been involved in all previous Games since 1992.
But it is its involvement in the Paralympics at London 2012 that has caused so much anger.
Among those to have hit out at their involvement is Jenny Sealey, who was the co-artistic director of the. Paralympic Opening Ceremony, and is deaf.
She does not agree with some campaigners who called for a boycott of the Games over Atos’ involvement but backs the campaign against them.
“The disability movement has been so hard and there’s been so many battles, if you boycotted it we would just fade away and people would forget about us all over again,” she toldinsidethegames.
“So the Paralympics is monumentally important to remind people that we are here, we have rights.
“We have a world stage to communicate those rights.
“I’m not saying we could change Atos but to go about this with real political and emotional integrity, I think doing this is really important.”
But Sir Philip Craven, the Bolton-born President of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), who is in a wheelchair, has defended Atos, although he has tried to distance his organisation from the arm of the company carrying out the “fit for work” assessments.
“We as an organisation have Atos – and not Atos healthcare, I might hasten to add – as a sponsor of the International Paralympic Committee, and also as a sponsor of the Games here,” said Sir Philip.
“Our relationship with Atos has been incredibly positive.
“That’s really the only relationship I can commentate on.”
Sebastian Coe, the chairman of London 2012, has also backed Atos.
“They’re helping us with accreditation, recruitment of our volunteers and delivery of results,” he said.
“We can’t do this without sponsors.
“So my view is that I’m pleased they’re here.”
Contact the writer of this story at email@example.com