Socialist Worker

Disability campaigners say Atos is the real cheat

by Viv Smith
Issue No. 2251

Terry Hutt takes the message to Atos  (Pic: http://www.guysmallman.com/Guy Smallman )

Terry Hutt takes the message to Atos (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Disabled activists are getting organised and fighting back against cuts.

This week, incapacity benefits claimants are mobilising protests across Britain against Tory plans to slash benefits using a new privatised testing regime.

Over a million people are threatened with re-testing.

Leaked reports have revealed that the Tories had planned to cut the benefits of at least 23 percent of claimants. They have since scrapped the targets—but not the tests.

The Tories want to force disabled and ill people onto cheaper benefits and into low paid work. And they are paying private companies like Atos Origin to carry out the tests.

Protesters assembled outside Atos Origins headquarters in London on Monday to show their anger at the plans.

The demonstration opened a week of protests backed by over 50 organisations across Britain.

Gillian Eames, a disability campaigner, showed Socialist Worker the letter she has received warning her that she will soon be retested.

“I was medically retired in 1999,” she said. “I’ve had surgery on my spine. If anyone bothered to ask my GP or consultant they would know that my situation has not improved.

“I hated giving up my job. But the reality is that there are very few jobs for people who require support because of their disability.

“I live with pain every day. I’m waiting for a knee and shoulder joint replacement. But they treat me like a criminal. I didn’t ask for this disease and I’m going to keep fighting.”

Many claimants face being moved onto the lower Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), and losing a range of support.

For some this will mean a drop of over £1,600 a year.

Stringent

The same people could then lose their JSA because they cannot meet the stringent conditions of the benefit.

Adam Lotun, a wheelchair user, has won two tribunals to get his benefits reinstated.

“I am living proof of how wrong these tests are,” he told Socialist Worker. “They first removed my benefits in 2010. Now I’m virtually bankrupt.”

When his benefits were stopped, Adam lost his disabled blue badge, his car, his free NHS prescriptions and his care support at home.

Another report shows that the government issued guidelines on how to deal with people made suicidal by their potential loss of benefits.

These guidelines were leaked by a job centre worker on Monday.

They had been sent out to all staff working for job centres and other Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) contractors, including Atos.

The guidelines state that some claimants will talk about suicide as “a threat or a tactic to ‘persuade’”. It does go on to say, though, that such declarations must be taken seriously, because it is hard to “distinguish” those who “mean it”.

Workers fear that the pressure on staff to cut benefits is leading to vulnerable claimants being targeted.

Over 40 percent of appeals against Atos Origin’s decisions have resulted in  benefits being restored.

Terry Hutt, a 76-year old pensioner who joined the protest (pictured), summed up the mood of resistance. “The Tories like to talk about benefit thieves. But they are targeting people in wheelchairs. They are the thieves—we have to fight to stop them,” he said.


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News
Tue 10 May 2011, 18:13 BST
Issue No. 2251
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