CAMPAIGNERS are to take direct action against the organisers of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games in a bid to have the controversial disability benefit test company, Atos, dropped as an official sponsor.
The move follows protests around the London Olympics and Paralympics, where the French IT giant was a sponsor despite criticism that its work assessments on the sick and disabled are flawed and degrading.
Atos has a £110 million-a-year contract with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to conduct Work Capability Assessments – which decide whether the ill and disabled are fit to work immediately, in the medium term or not at all – plus a £400m contract to assess mobility benefits next year.
Critics say the tests are a crude money-saving exercise aimed more at cutting the annual £13 billion benefit bill than helping the vulnerable, and refer to hundreds of gravely ill people who lost benefits after Atos assessed them as fit to work and then died within months.
About one-sixth of those assessed as fit to work by Atos successfully appeal the decision, costing taxpayers an extra £50m a year.
Atos, which employs 1500 people in Scotland, was unveiled as a Glasgow 2014 sponsor in March, with then Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon calling it a “significant step forward for the Games”. The company will supply software to accredit up to 70,000 athletes, officials and volunteers, plus results systems, medal tables and the Games website.
The deal attracted little attention at the time, but controversy over Atos has since exploded.
In May, the British Medical Association voted for an immediate end to its work assessments because of the harm they do patients. Exposés by Channel 4’s Dispatches and the BBC’s Panorama then suggested Atos doctors and nurses were following DWP targets for cutting benefits, a claim strongly denied by the Coalition.
More than 30 SNP MSPs have signed Holyrood motions critical of Atos in the last month. Now protestors intend to draw attention to its links to the Commonwealth Games.
Sean Clerkin of Citizens United, which represents people at Atos assessments, said there were already plans to occupy Glasgow 2014 premises.
“Atos are not a fit and proper organisation to be part of the Commonwealth Games, so there will be protests. Atos should be dropped completely as a sponsor. They’re just profiteering on the misery of disabled people.”
Edinburgh-based disabled rights campaigner Sasha Callaghan said that with Atos implementing a new wave of tests next year, anger would spiral. “I’m sure there will be protests,” she said.
An Atos spokesman said: “While we fully respect people’s right to peaceful protest and understand this is a highly emotive issue, Atos is proud to be an official supporter of the Glasgow 2014 Organising Committee.”
Glasgow 2014 said: “As a worldwide IT partner for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Atos has demonstrated unwavering commitment to driving forward the Paralympic movement by providing dedicated practical support to athletes for the last 10 years. We’re very proud to have global IT experts Atos as part of our family.