Stuart Brae, a former track and field Paralympian, is among those urging medal winners to a raise clenched fist on the podium – a gesture made famous by African-American athletes at the 1968 Mexico Games – in a stand against Atos’s deal with the Paralympics movement.
Mr Brae, 54, a former member of the UK Special Forces, lost his right leg in a lorry accident 27 years ago. He and his family relied on benefits for several years until accident compensation enabled him to get back into education.
Mr Brae, now a lecturer in the sociology of sports at Teesside University, said: “Paralympics athletes have a responsibility to understand what life is like for other disabled people and speak out on disability rights issues.
“I would love to see someone take a stand and do a black power salute like in Mexico or protest in any way.” He added: “I know many will be frightened of losing their place on the team or not being selected next time.”
His call for solidarity was echoed by hundreds of protesters who gathered outside Atos’s headquarters in London at the end of a week of direct action against the French company organised by Disabled People Against Cuts.
Atos has two lucrative benefits contracts with the Department of Work Pensions (DwP). Its health professionals carry out the much-maligned Work Capability Assessments (WCA) used to decide whether an individual is fit for work. This contract is worth £110m a year. It also has a new £400m contract to assess people’s mobility benefit – a bill the Government wants cut by 20 per cent.
Around 30 people split off from the main protest outside Atos yesterday to demonstrate at the DwP. Some of them temporarily occupied the department’s offices London, while two people in wheelchairs chained themselves to the doors, according to the campaign group UK Uncut.
Molly Solomons, a spokeswoman for the group, said: “We are doing this to highlight that Atos, a sponsor for the Paralympic Games, is receiving £100m from the Government.” Ms Solomons claimed that this is “in the hope they will assess people with disabilities and get them off benefits”.
She said the protest took place on the day it was announced that Cecilia Burns, a cancer sufferer who had her Employment Support Allowance benefits cut after Atos assessed her as fit to work, has died.
Ms Burns, 51, from Strabane, County Tyrone, had started a campaign in February to have that decision overturned. Her benefits were reinstated weeks ago but she died on Monday.
An Atos spokeswoman 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.”