A company accused of forcing physically impaired people off their health benefits is nevertheless enjoying its sponsor status at the London Paralympics. The revelation made brought hundreds of activists out for a protest at the firm’s office.
The Paralympics are the ultimate display of triumph over adversity – a showcase for people who have conquered their disabilities and achieved amazing feats. But hanging over this year’s event is a shadow cast by major sponsor Atos. It’s the firm the British government is paying to assess disabled people’s ability to work, but it is blamed for the humiliation of the vulnerable, as it revoked peoples’ benefits as part of the country’s austerity program.
“They are making money out of other people’s misery, literally. The irony of them sponsoring the Paralympics, I think it’s really lost on them. And it seems to divide people into the deserving disabled and the undeserving,” says anti-cuts activist Kim Elkin.
Tony Bradstock went through an Atos assessment that resulted in him losing his full income for six months. He says he was made to feel like a criminal, and the process resulted in him attempting suicide.
“The work capability assessment assessed me as being fit for work, in spite of what my GP had said, in spite of what my consultant at the hospital had said, in spite of what my occupational health doctor had said… I actually took a bread knife to my wrist because I couldn’t find any way of keeping the roof over my head. For my family, I couldn’t see any way out,” Tony says.
Disabled people and other activists have travelled from all over the country to protest Atos’ sponsorship of the Paralympics. They’re united in their admiration for paralympians, but say an organization that persecutes disabled people should take no part in the event.
The company defends its practices and passes responsibility back to the British Department for Work and Pensions, which makes the final decisions.
“We do not make decisions on people’s benefit entitlement or on welfare policy, but we will continue to make sure that the service we provide is as highly professional and compassionate as it can be,” an Atos statement says.
But rights activists say that’s just passing the buck, and that Atos’ sponsorship of the games gives it a whitewash it doesn’t deserve.
“They’re trying to clean up their image by trying to associate themselves with sport and being pro-disability and people’s activity has really given the other side about how harmful, and how they kill people by cutting them off,” says campaigner Claire Glasman.
Team GB athletes appeared to hide the Atos branding on their Paralympic accreditation during the opening ceremony. But activists say that’s not enough, when Atos and the government expect to take independent living benefits from about a half a million people in the next four years.
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