31 August 2012
A former chairman of the Disability Rights Commission has shown support for protests against Paralympics partner Atos, with campaigners disgruntled at ‘fitness to work’ tests that the company is carrying out for the government.
Speaking to Publicservice.co.uk, Sir Bert Massie, who has also held a wide range of other influential roles including Commissioner for the Compact, said disabled people were “frightened” by the government’s approach to assessing their entitlement to incapacity benefit.
“People don’t believe the assessment is fair,” he said. The assessments were “destroying the lives of disabled people”.
“Some have committed suicide because of the assessment,” he added.
Sir Bert said his own disability had not prevented him from working because of his education. But other people who had similar physical and mental abilities, but who lacked his level education, might not be able to work, he said.
The “crude” assessments meant people’s situations were “much more complicated than the government were allowing for”.
The tests were as “random as putting an apple behind your back and asking left hand or right hand”, he said.
Responding, a spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions told Publicservice.co.uk that the tests were functional and assessed individuals’ “ability to work”. And Atos told Publicservice.co.uk the tests did allow people to submit any relevant supporting documentation.
But action groups Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) and UK Uncut today claimed over 500 protestors had “shut down” the headquarters of Atos and the Department for Work and Pensions in blockades designed to coincide with the first week of the Paralympics.
The groups said the £100m Atos work capability assessment testing programme had faced “fierce criticism”.
Lydia Foxton, a spokesperson from DPAC said: “Cutting welfare is devastating people’s lives and removing dignity, security and independence from thousands of sick and disabled people across the country.
“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.’
Andrew Cox, a spokesperson from UK Uncut said disabled people were being made “a scapegoat for the economic crisis”. “They are being punished with welfare cuts,” he said
“The government has been making huge cuts to welfare provision, even though their own research shows that less than 0.5 per cent of welfare claims are fraudulent.”
A spokesman for Atos said the company was much more than a sponsor and that it had been supporting the Paralympic Games as a partner for more than a decade – providing the technology that allowed the Games to happen.
“We fully respect people’s right to peaceful protest and we understand this is a highly emotive issue,” a spokesman said.
“We do not make decisions on people’s benefit entitlement or on welfare policy but we will continue to make sure that 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 through continual work with the government, disability rights groups, healthcare professionals and those going through the process on the ground.”
A government spokesman said it was “disappointing” that a “small number of organisations are protesting against sponsorship of the Paralympic Games”. The games were “an opportunity to showcase the talents of disabled people and act as a catalyst for our sporting talents of the future”.