Paralympics: Politicians booed for benefit cuts

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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Atos protesters clash with police in ‘day of action’ against the Paralympic sponsors

 


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.”

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ATOS KILLS

Man in coma loses benefits as he's classified "fit for work"

‘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.

In a thread on rightsnet.org.uk on Thursday Reading Community Welfare Rights Unit deputy manager Sam Harney noted:

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.’

Disabled People Against Cuts need your help and support! Visit DPAC on facebook to receive updates of information and events and stop ATOS ruining peoples lives and getting away with murder!

We are coming after you ATOS. In Parliament, in the Courts, online, and on the streets…LET THE ATOS GAMES BEGIN!!!

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Financial Times Reveals Welfare-to-Work Programme Chaos

OLYPHOTO - 270

The Welfare-to-Work Programme has been described as “set to fail” by Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham – the host borough for the 2012 London Olympics. In a fortnight, the winners of contracts are due to be announced, putting the unemployed and people on disability benefits back to work. However, Sir Robin believes that there is “a serious risk that some of the best prime providers may walk away”. Out of 11 bidders for the East and South London contract, 3 will be appointed in order to provide competition. Sir Robin said that he is yet to be convinced that ‘three prime contractors each delivering across 17 boroughs will do anything other than lead to confusion amongst job seekers and contractors’.

The rules the work programme has in place could themselves prevent people from taking one of the 100,000 jobs that the Olympics are meant to create. This is because providers will be paid the majority of their fee once they have managed to provide individuals with sustained work for a period of up to 2 years. However, given the short-term nature of most of the Olympic jobs on offer, the possibility of people taking jobs, becoming unemployed again and having to re-start the work programme a year later may prove discouraging.

Sir Robin believes that the government needs to ‘ensure that working in an Olympic job does not disadvantage the indivdual’ to avoid losing out on ‘the single greatest opportunity in Newham’s history to get our residents into work’.

To see the full article click Olympic jobless drive heads for ‘Chaos’

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Benefit Busters: Blaming the poor…..again

Channel 4’s new show ‘Benefit Busters’ seems to be a PR gem for a government overseeing the biggest economic crisis in the past 30 years. Once again the numerous reasons why unemployment is soaring and more and more people are finding themselves in the ranks of the long-term unemployed is ignored in favour of the old-iddium- ‘people are lazy’. The concept is simple, an outside team come into the local job centre and teach all the unemployed the reason they have no job is their negative attitude.

It would be funny, if it wasn’t so mind-numbingly unoriginal and tragic.  That Channel 4 has managed to find a character that bares a striking  resemblance to ‘league of gentlemen restart officer Pauline’ in the form of Hayley, is a small triumph but the truth is that a this is a bad tabloid headline come to life and its harmful. ‘No jobs, rubbish! a pep talk from Hayley and suddenly your dreams come true, Poundland has an opening. In agony after a terrible accident, don’t worry if your benefits are cut and your on the breadline you will soon forget about your troubles’. Not only does it patronise those millions of people looking for work in an ever squeezed market, it attacks the weakest in society, the sick and disabled who have the least chance of finding employment.

This is best illustrated by the episode where Kieron, a young man on disability allowance, has his benefits cut after he was found to be ‘faking’ a serious back injury by one of the pep talk team. Now call me cynical but I always thought you needed extensive medical training and a few years working with patients before you could decide whether someone was ill or not, a bad neck tie and lipstick just doesn’t seem like enough.

With virtually no questions asked of A4E,  the private company involved in Benefit Busters or how much value for money we the tax payer are getting for this scheme, as opposed as to the old system, this is more like a  informercial for A4E than a documentary. Given that it is claimed A4E receive up-to £I94 per client per week and they have a limited amount of success, even in the program several clients failed to stay in work, more stringent questions should have been asked about the methods of this company.

Is it right that Emma Harrison, the companies founder, has become a millionaire through other peoples unemployment? If you make money from people being out of work can you be trusted to find them a job? Is Hayley the person to rummage through peoples deep-seated psychological problems?

I just wonder what Channel 4 will sink to next- ‘The poor and disabled, how  they bring it on themselves’.

For a further critique of Benefit Busters visit The Metro

To read criticism of Benefit Busters by a local charity visit  Fife Today

For further information on our Poverty and the Media Project and to view our workshops please visit our Project Page.

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