British Conservative politicians have been booed at the Paralympics in London amid protests against cuts to disability benefits.
The government has faced heat for awarding Paralympic Games sponsors Atos a contact to carry out “fitness to work tests” on people on incapacity benefits, which opponents claim has driven disabled people to poverty and even suicide.
Atos Healthcare, a global IT company, was given the £400m (NZ$796m) contact at the beginning of last month.
The British government claims more than £600m (NZ$1.19b) each year is being spent on overpayments to people who no longer qualify for the level of benefits they are receiving, the BBC reports, and so is now basing its payments on the Atos Work Capability assessments.
However, action group Disabled People Against The Cuts says less than 0.4 per cent of incapacity payments are fraudulent, but the government is looking to cut spending in the area by 20 per cent.
Opponents to the assessments say more than 1,000 people who had their benefits cut as they were deemed fit work subsequently died last year.
DPAC’s Roger Lewis told the BBC the assessments were causing “huge damage and distress to disabled people”.
“We now have a situation where we know that people have gone through the Atos assessments who have unfortunately died as a result. Some have committed suicide. Some have had heart attacks.”
Last Friday saw a large protest at the Atos’s London headquarters, as well as a demonstration at the Department for Work and Pensions, also in the capital.
Both Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne have now been loudly booed by crowds at Paralympic events.
Cameron received his negative reception when he was shown on the big screen at the Aquatic Centre, while Osborne was on the end of deafening disapproval at a packed London Olympic Stadium as he was announced to present the medals for the 400m T38.
Not all UK politicians have been booed by Paralympic crowds, with former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown receiving a “rather contrasting reaction” as he presented medals at the swimming, the Guardian reported.
It is not clear if the reception for the Conservative MPs is related to the Atos contract, or simply a reflection of the slumping support for the Tory-led Government in the polls.
British paralympians have also spoken out against proposed cuts to the disability living allowance, telling the Guardian that without benefit they would not have been able to participate in society, let alone sport.
“Without DLA I would not have been able to do what I did or be a top athlete,” Ade Adepitan, former-Paralympic wheelchair medallist told the paper.
Athletes also hid their security pass lanyards, which bear the Atos logo, during the opening ceremony to the games, however ParalympicsGB rejected this was a protest, rather claimed they had been tucked under their uniforms as it was windy.
The Paralympic sponsor Atos has been targeted by disability and anti-cuts demonstrators in angry protests at its role in testing disabled people to reassess their eligibility for benefit payments.
Hundreds of disabled and able-bodied protesters chanted outside the IT group’s central London headquarters, before moving to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in Westminster, the government department in charge of the scheme. There were minor scuffles with police after a small number of protesters occupied the lobby and attempted to blockade the department’s front entrance.
Atos has been the focus of fierce controversy over its sponsorship of the Games while contracted by the DWP to carry out “fitness to work” tests, which campaigners argue are part of a money-saving drive to reduce benefit payments.
Campaigners say the scheme, worth £100m a year, has driven many disabled people into poverty or, in some cases, to suicide. Micheline Mason, who has used a wheelchair all of her life, said she had come to the protest, called by Disabled People Against the Cuts and UK Uncut, because she was “just so angry and so horrified at the demonising of disabled people. We’re being used as an excuse for the government to take resources from the poorest, most vulnerable people.”
Atos, she said, was “an agent of a policy that has already driven people to suicide and even those it hasn’t, has added such hardship and fear and uncertainty and insecurity to the last people who need to be feeling that”.
Atos Healthcare, a subsidiary of the French IT multinational, is contracted by the DWP to carry out “work capability assessments” of people receiving incapacity benefits, in which they are scored on whether assessors judge them able to work.
But campaigners say many of those whose benefits are slashed or removed remain incapable of holding down a job, citing research showing that, during one nine-month period last year, 1,100 people who had been judged able to work and had their benefits slashed accordingly had died.
Some 40% of the 738,000 assessments carried out last year were appealed against, of which 38% were upheld.
Several people at the protest cited the case of Cecilia Burns, 51, from Strabane, Co Derry, who died this week from breast cancer despite being told in February that she was well enough to get a job, after which her employment support allowance was reduced to £30 a week. After a campaign her benefits were reinstated a few weeks ago but she died on Monday, the BBC reported.
Claire Glasman, from north London, said she felt that “disabled people are under the harshest attack that we have faced since the welfare state was set up”. She described the results of the tests as “a humanitarian disaster” and said that disabled people were feeling increasingly desperate after lobbying parliament and MPs without significant results. “It’s just an absolute crisis. You can see we are just at the end of our tether,” she said.
The comedian Jeremy Hardy said he had attended the protest because “I just think the way the coalition has decided to victimise people with disabilities is so blatant and shameless, and they are willfully creating a new stereotype and a new scapegoat, suggesting that hard-working people’s money is being siphoned off to the undeserving.
“It’s just so cynical, because that strategy is being targeted at people who don’t have much, trying to make them hate people who have less.”
On Thursday, ParalympicsGB officials denied British athletes at the Games had hidden their accreditation badges at the opening ceremony, after observers noted that none was displaying the lanyard that bears the sponsor’s logo.
In a statement, Atos said: “We fully respect people’s right to peaceful protest and we understand this is a highly emotive issue.
“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 program 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.
“At Atos we have proudly supported the Paralympics movement for a decade. We hope people will view the Games as we do, as an opportunity to celebrate sporting achievements.”
A government spokesman added: “It’s disappointing that a small number of organisations are protesting against sponsorship of the Paralympic Games, which is an opportunity to showcase the talents of disabled people and act as a catalyst for our sporting talents of the future.”
Lord Coe, the London 2012 chairman, also reiterated his support for Atos as a sponsor at a press conference. “They are helping us with accreditation and they are helping us with the recruitment of volunteers. They are helping the media with the delivery of results. They have been in the Olympic and Paralympic space for a long time. You know my view, we can’t do this without sponsors. So the short answer is that I am pleased they’re here. They are helping us.”
‘The government’s decision to crack down on the disabled takes a bizarre turn this week after a man in a coma was stripped of his benefits – because he’d not handed his fitness-for-work questionnaire in.
Client’s husband is in hospital in a coma. He was sent ESA501.
Client contacted DWP to explain situation and was asked to obtain letter from hospital confirming he is in a coma. Did so. Was told to send it to ATOS rather than local BDC. Did so. Husband has now received decision letter – yep, as he has failed to return the ESA50 without good cause and is therefore capable of work [he is] no longer entitled to ESA…
The decision is part of a lengthening list of seemingly nonsensical judgements handed down by ATOS healthcare since it was appointed to oversee benefits claims in 2005 – another notable case is that of Larry Newman, who was told to stop slacking and get back to work despite having an incurable lung disease, which killed him just months after his assessment.
The firm has been targeted repeatedly over the last few years by campaigners under the banner ATOS KILLS, with activists pointing to a sharp rise in applications against the decisions being made, with 40% of appeals being successful overall rising to 70% where legal representation is used.’
We are calling on disabled people, disabled activists, families, colleagues, friends and supporters to come together and fight back against Atos’s attacks. Atos represents as dangerous an opponent as any government, law or barrier the disability movement has faced in its long history. It’s not just welfare, but our very identity and our place within society that is under attack.
We are asking the whole of the anti-cuts movement to join us in our opposition to the company most responsible for driving through the government’s brutal cuts agenda.
Let’s make it Games over for Atos!
We’re not against the Paralympics, or the people taking part in it. We’re highlighting the hypocrisy of Atos, a company that soon may be taking disability benefits from the people winning medals for Team GB.
Ever since George Osborne announced he was slashing £18 billion from the welfare budget, the government has paid Atos £100 million a year to test 11,000 sick and disabled people every week – then decide whether they’re ‘fit for work’.
Atos uses an inhumane computer program to do the testing and trains its staff to push people off benefits. The government has admitted the tests are flawed and the British Medical Association wants them to end immediately.
So – join in The Atos Games however you can – online, on the phone, or on the streets!
• Monday 27: A coffin full of your messages about Atos will be delivered to its doorstep.
• Tuesday 28: Pay a visit to your local Atos office – and maybe even take your protest inside!
• Wednesday 29: We’ll hold a spoof Paralympic awards ceremony – hopefully with some very special guests…
• Thursday 30: Phone jam! Let’s flood Atos with calls, and generate a Twitter-storm they can’t ignore!
• Friday 31: Join us in London where we’re teaming up with UK Uncut for the Grand Finale – an audacious, daring and disruptive action. Last time we shut down Oxford Circus. This time we will be performing miracles…!
We’ll give more details about each day of action. We’ll make sure that DPAC members and disabled people who can’t travel will be able to take part in different and accessible ways.
We’d really like YOU to make this week of action a great success!
Atos has offices in most towns across the country, so start organising an action for August 28 at your local Atos now!
The Atos Healthcare assessment for disability benefits has been labelled a box-ticking exercise, employing the use of LiMA (Logic Integrated Medical Assessment) – a script which the Atos assessors use to determine a person’s level of disability. These assessors are often medical professionals who have undergone training to comply with the objectives of the test.
The aims of this kind of test, using multiple choice questions to provide quantitative information to assess disability, is to try and standardise disability in order to make the murky waters of individual medical conditions a little more transparent, ostensibly for budgetary purposes. Atos currently has a contract with the UK government which they claim to be worth £100m a year.
The government’s planned re-structuring of the benefits system will incorporate similar assessments, for example, replacing the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with Personal Independence Payments (PIP). The PIP scheme will make claimants subject to regular review and face-to-face assessments, using methods like LiMA. The government says that they hope to save £1bn using such a system, but disability groups say that the system is insufficient, and Atos’ monopoly on benefits assessments is inappropriate. One of the universal criticisms of Atos is that they rarely make eye contact with patients…
Some disability campaign groups have subsequently called for a boycott of the 2012 Paralympic Games due to Atos’s position as a worldwide partner of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The campaigners say the company is running a flawed process to assess disabled people’s rights to benefits and is therefore an inappropriate sponsor of the Paralympic Games. Yet for campaigners, the last straw is the appointment this month of former Atos chief executive – Bernard Bourigeaud – to the board of the International Paralympic Committee.
The LOCOG committee has a poor record when it comes to sourcing ethically sustainable goods and sponsorships. They can now add another instance to the list. Accused of causing ‘fear and loathing’ among disabled claimants, Atos’ system remains hidden to prevent any critical testing of its efficacy, and their extremely lucrative and unassailable contract with the DWP shrugs off other corporate competitors. For anyone disabled, the name Atos is hardly reputable. However, LOCOG doesn’t really mind where it comes from, so long as the money flows.
The London Olympics has already suffered severe setbacks from activists who are threatening to disrupt the smooth functionaing of the mega event. Lord Sebastian Coe, Chairman of the London Olympics Organising Committee has repeatedly turned down suggestions that he should get rid of some of the corporate sponsors. London which will be the first city to host the Olympic thrice is facing issues over sponsorship deals, transportation within the city, land grabbing and ceremonies expenditure.
The Olympics is an event of freedom, spirit, youth and energy; so why all these protests against an event of such big stature. The issue started when the organisers headed by Seb Coe agreed to massive sponsorship deals with corporates who have been responsible for heinous crimes in its history. BP, the most popular corporate culprit in the United States after its massive oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico has threatened more then 400 species and cost thousands of jobs. BP constantly delayed the cleaning of the oil spill and had to pay massive fines and compensations. American financial service giants VISA are engulfed in a controversy of their own. Any Olympic electronic financial transaction has to take place through a VISA debit or credit card. Many have raised their concern over the monopoly created by the organisers and have called for the boycott of the services offered by Visa.
The controversies that probably have managed to create a big dent on the mega event are the sponsorship deals with Dow Chemicals and ATOS. I have mentioned in my previous blog about the inhuman behavior of Union Carbide officials which is now owned by Dow Chemicals towards the people of Bhopal after a gas leak from a tank resulting in 3,000 lives in just one night. ATOS which is the private biggest health care service after the publicly owned NHS is under the limelight for its atrocious treatment of the disabled in the United Kingdom. Not many doubts were raised when athletes and activists have called for the Olympics to distance itself from ATOS or else they will try their best to boycott the Paralympic games. A similar threat has been given by some leading politicians and athletes from India to boycott the main event. Perhaps the biggest surprise to me was the deal with GE(General Electric). GE is one of the leading producers of nuclear energy in the world and not just in America, as it has helped set up nuclear capabilities in many other countries.
It is a farce that corporates who have performed with dubious moral ethics have been allowed to sponsor an event that symbolises unity. Spread the word against corporate greed.