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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Join the Atos Games with Disabled People Against Cuts

Join the Atos Games with Disabled People Against Cuts

Join Disabled People Against Cuts for The Atos Games From Monday 27 to Friday 31 August – five days of action against a company that’s sponsoring the Paralympics but wrecking disabled people’s lives.

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!

Let the Atos Games begin.

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Plans to reveal yet another statue.

The Camden New Journal yesterday uncovered plans to erect a statue of Christ the Redeemer on Primrose Hill. The statue will be a tribute to the one overlooking Rio de Janeiro, to celebrate passing on the torch (pun begrudgingly intended) to Brazil for 2016.

The Brazilian government would fund the project, and a planning consultancy based in London has been employed by Brazil’s tourist agency to hold a public meeting to display the designs before applications for planning permission are submitted.

The Camden-based design company See Me, Hear Me, Feel Me did not want to discuss the plans, and the Brazilian government was unavailable for comment, but Primrose Hill Lib Dem councillor Chris Naylor said he wasn’t sure a 30ft statue of Christ with his arms outstretched was quite what the area needed.

Other statues to celebrate the Olympics have been erected around Britain, often to the displeasure of residents. The ‘Jurassic Stones’ statue, by Richard Harris, has been greeted with horror by residents of Weymouth, Dorset. The Stones’ £335,000 bill pales in comparison to the £19m spent on Anish Kapoor’s ‘ArcelorMittal Orbit’, on site in Stratford.

 

Many people question why so much money is being spent on statues to celebrate the Olympics, and whether it is appropriate in the current economic climate. The term ‘Legacy’ has always been used to describe the impact of mega-events like the Games: urban development, social, economic and cultural changes are words often thrown around in relation to the Legacy. However, the term has been re-appropriated by critics of the Games and become somewhat of a joke. The Legacy that does seem to be taking shape is symbolised in the statues cropping up around the country – abstracted, distorted, and expensive.

The real Olympic Legacy will be towering debt.

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Olympic ceremonies will cost another £40m

The budget for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic opening and closing ceremonies has been doubled to over £80 million, it was announced today.

Ministers blamed the increased cost of security on the recruitment of 23 700 security guards to work at more than 100 competition and training venues. This brings the taxpayer’s contribution to venue security to £533 million. With the policing bill set at £475 million, the overall cost of Olympic security is now £1 billion.

Delivering the Government’s quarterly Olympic budget update today, Olympics minister Hugh Robertson said: “This money will not be spent on fireworks, it will not be money going up in smoke, it will be an important investment in the economic future of the country.”


He continued by saying that a meeting of the Prime Minister, the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and himself had decided that they “needed to maximise and promote London to the four billion television viewers after being presented with a wide range of ceremonial components across the ceremonies.”

Robertson acknowledged the current economic conditions but said that the potential benefits that could flow through enhanced tourism numbers justified the increase.

The extra cash will come from the Olympic contingency fund and the London 2012 project remains on course to come in at around the budgeted £9.3 billion.

Putting on a great show is important but what’s even more important is creating a lasting legacy – other than debt. Surely they’d be able to put on a few good shows for the original £40 million budgeted and then they could have spent the additional £40 million on something that would benefit the people of Britain in the future?

This is where we’d normally add a sarcastic comments about broken calculators, but this time we’re just going to let the numbers speak for themselves…

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New Olympic legacy website: London-Rio: Olympic Cities

Mega Event Cities

London-Rio: Olympic Cities

“Cities across the globe are using mega events to catalyse urban development and social, economic and cultural change. Here we present insights and analysis of these events, examining their impact upon city-building and exploring their contribution to the design and shaping of place.

Our research is policy focused and practical. Our approach is focused upon the social impacts and legacies of mega events. We use interdisciplinary analysis to discover new ways of comparing and thinking about the mega event city.

We are interested in receiving comments on the site and suggestions for relevant material or links to be placed on it. The site will be dedicated primarily to housing academic work on the social legacies of mega events, particularly those referring to London 2012 or Rio 2016. We would also welcome links to our site being placed in sites addressing similar themes.”

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LOCOG to ban cameras from the Olympics

Amateur Photographer has reported that the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) is putting restrictions on the type of photographic equipment that the public will be allowed to bring to the Games, and are banning cameras from certain events altogether.

A photography enthusiast wrote to LOCOG asking if he would be allowed to bring his DSLR lens to the Stadium, and was told in an email that ‘LOCOG has yet to finalise the spectator filming and photography guidelines. As with other large sporting events there may be restrictions for spectators on the size of lenses permitted into venues.’

It is believed that certain kinds of equipment will be banned from the Games altogether, whilst no flash photography will be allowed at all in the public stands during certain events, such as shooting.

LOCOG is set to discuss its final photography guidelines at talks in the summer and in September. Once they have been finalised, the guidelines will be published on their website.

Read the full article here.

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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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LOCOG facing legal action over re-sale of hotel packages

The London Olympics Committee off the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) is facing the prospect of legal action from a number of hotel chains in the UK, who are currently reviewing the contracts they signed offering the committee preferential prices for hotel rooms during the 2012 Olympics.

The chains allege that the rooms they offered are now being sold at inflated prices by the official London 2012 travel agent Thomas Cook. The controversy broke last week, when Thomas Cook made its prices public. The Evening Standard quotes a package for three nights at the Hyatt Regency with a face value of £1,740 being resold on for £6,499.

This is the latest in a series of criticisms levelled against LOCOG over their plans for the Games’ infrastructure, most recently over their plans for creating jobs in the communities around the 2012 Grounds. More to follow…

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