On A Para Trip: UK Activists Take Aim at Persecution of Disabled and Vulnerable Benefit's Claimants
ON A PARA TRIP
SchNEWS; 31st August 2012 - Issue 825
Who could possibly take a pop at the Paralympics – you'd surely be lambasted from all sides for daring to attack the most worthy, hyped, affirmative national-feelgood festival of sport of all time. Well there's one group of people who don't have to tread the PC tightrope: the disabled. And thousands did just that when they turned out all over the country this week to take part in a week of actions again Atos, one of the main sponsors of the games.
Disabled campaigners weren't directing their anger at athletes nor at the games in general- wheelchairs rolled in Plymouth, Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, Bournemouth, Northampton, Liverpool, Swansea, Lancaster, Southampton, Edinburgh, Derby, Stroud, Leeds, Bristol, Newcastle, Hull, Reading, Chatham and Exeter as people turned out to take part in 'the Atos Games', a week of actions organized by the Disabled People Against Cuts protest group.
Hundreds turned out in central London to picket Atos' HQ, whilst hundreds more targeted the Cardiff offices, holding a die-in outside the building.
The French-owned company are busy profiting from £100m-a-year government contracts to assess benefit claimants and find huge numbers of them 'fit for work'. They have undertaken this work with gusto, with their default computer-decided position being to boot hundreds of thousands off their benefits, seemingly almost at random, and then see how many of them fight it through the stressful appeals process. Their callous calculation is that the attrition rate of people who don't contest it or don't have enough court-pleasing evidence to win the appeal (more than 40% of claimants eventually have won) will get them to meet their presumably pre-determined minimum percentage of benefit-slashing needed to meet George Osbourne's targets for raising cash from the poor to pay for all that bailing out of the rich.
But this profitable corporate strategy has been screwing with the lives of thousands of poor and vulnerable people across the country. People like Philip Bayes, a former council road sweeper retired on medical grounds after reconstructive foot surgery left him unable to stand or walk properly. Atos awarded him zero points and according to his family, refused to look at the occupational health report which had declared him unfit. His ESA was immediately stopped and even though the appeal overturned this after considering the report several months later, the whole experience left him severely depressed. Or Stephen Hill of Duckmanton, Derbyshire who died of a heart attack in December, one month after being told he was "fit to work" whilst he was waiting for major heart surgery. Tallying with anecdotal accounts from bereaved families, the Citizens Advice Bureau say they have identified numerous cases where the stress of benefit-claim fighting seems to have been a major contributing factor in someone's death (or indeed suicide) shortly after going through the Atos experience.
Last year even a report from MPs was forced to conclude that the introduction of medical assessments Atos-style prompted "fear and anxiety among vulnerable people" and acknowledged the tests resulted in large numbers of seriously unwell claimants being refused support. But this year Atos have been awarded more contracts worth some £400m to work their evil magic by slashing the number of people on Disability Living Allowance benefits. George Osborne wants 20% savings at least – even though it's been estimated that less than 0.4% of disability claims are fraudulent. No problem say Atos - but first let us big up our brand by sticking our name all over the Paralympics and have some of our grinning managers seen smooching around athletes at medal-giving time.
No wonder that this leaves a sour taste in the mouth for many people – the type of people who might have shared their Atos experiences on an online forum run by CareWatch until it was summarily shut down by the company in an aggressive bit of reputational control. But no worries for the Paralympics organizers whose ethical defence consists of saying that er, without sponsors there would be no games – so why not go the whole hog and boost the budget further by getting cash from landmine manufacturers and Grünenthal Pharmaceutical (the makers of Thalidomide). Hell, why not invite the Eugenics Foundation?
The largest turnout of the week is expected on Friday 31st, when DPAC are holding the Atos Games closing ceremony at Atos' London HQ. Some former Paralympians are expected to attend.
Meet this Friday 31st in Triton Square (near Euston Road) at 12:45pm for direct action and creative protest, with plenty of surprises…
For more see www.dpac.uk.net