Dave Sewell speaks to activists about the week of protests against the sick benefits firm
As London prepares for the Paralympic Games next week, disabled activists are organising protests against one of the year’s most grotesque hypocrisies.
The main sponsor of the games is none other than Atos, the firm hired by the government to push disabled people off benefits.
“It sends a message that no-one cares about disabled people,” Ellen Clifford from Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) in Northampton told Socialist Worker.
“Atos have shown that they care only about profit and not about disabled people’s lives. Yet they are being given this opportunity to promote themselves on the back of disabled athletes’ achievements.”
So far Atos has been responsible for carrying out work capability assessments for people who receive employment support allowance (ESA) benefit. Anyone considered “fit for work” loses their benefits.
The government says it needs to take action to reduce fraudulent claims. But its own figures suggest fraud rates of just 0.5 percent—while Atos assessors are warned to avoid finding fewer than 87 percent of claimants fit for work.
This has led to people who are terminally ill, awaiting major surgery or who have lost limbs failing their assessments. Some 32 people a week have died after being declared fit for work. Others have committed suicide after their benefits were stripped away.
One of the actions planned next week will involve taking a coffin full of messages to the Atos headquarters in London, and reading out names of the dead.
Now the government wants to give Atos an even larger contract to test people for the new personal independence payment when it replaces disability living allowance (DLA) next year.
“It’s like they are being rewarded for doing the Tories’ dirty work,” said Roger Lewis, another DPAC activist in south London.
“Even the government has accepted that Atos assessments are flawed, and the British Medical Association has absolutely slammed them. But instead of being held to account, they have been handed another £400 million.”
Roger explained that the attack on DLA represented a new level of viciousness from the government. “DLA was the jewel in the crown of the disability movement, when we fought for our rights in the 80s and 90s,” he said.
“It’s a benefit that’s not work-related, not means-tested. It’s a recognition of the additional costs we face because of discrimination towards disabled people.”
Ellen added, “There’s a lack of understanding around that. People talk in the media about DLA as if it’s an out-of-work benefit, which it’s not.
“Even a lot of disabled people aren’t aware of the scale of the threat to DLA,” she added. “The cumulative effect is to make it impossible for some people to live in the community, to push them back into institutions or being incarcerated in their own homes.”
Disabled activists furious about the platform that Atos has been given are determined to make their voices heard.
Protesters are set to target Atos on Tuesday of next week in towns including Birmingham, Bournemouth, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Lancaster, Liverpool, Manchester, Northampton, Plymouth, Sheffield, Southampton and Swansea.
London is set to see a week of protests, culminating in mass direct action on the Friday. Previous DPAC protests have blocked traffic on busy roads. DPAC is working closely with unions including the jobcentre workers’ PCS.
Roger Lewis said, “Since the demonstration on 26 March last year we’ve forged links with workers that the movement had sometimes seen as the enemy.
“We went out to support their strikes over pensions, and we’re hoping to have their support for our protests. And we will all march together on the TUC’s monster demo on 20 October.”
For details of the protests near you see www.dpac.uk.net