Atos protest: Disability rights groups target firm





Friday 31 August 2012

Disability rights protesters invade government building

Campaigners against changes to disability benefit rules invade the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) following a protest outside the offices of one of the Paralympic Games’ main sponsors Atos.

The breakaway protest at the DWP saw campaigners gain entry to the government building. Channel 4 News’s Alex Thomson reported that 10 protesters in wheelchairs were inside the building with a 200-strong blockade outside forcing staff to use a side entrance.

A spokesman for the department confirmed that protesters had gained entry.

It followed a demonstration organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and UK Uncut outside the headquarters of Atos aimed to highlight opposition to the work capability assessments (WCA) that Atos carry out on behalf of the government.

Campaigners claim these assessments are destroying the lives of sick and disabled people.

Atos have come under fierce scrutiny for their handling of the DWP’s £100m a year contract to assess whether claimants for incapacity benefits are “fit for work”.

More than 700 protesters from across the UK were expected to descend on Atos’s headquarters in the Euston area of London.

‘Creative direct action’

The two groups have promised “creative direct action” at what is billed as The Closing Atos Ceremony, which completes a week of protests against the company.

Performers who took part in the Paralympic opening ceremony – who, due to contracts, have been unable to speak out against Atos – will be at the protest, along with high-profile entertainers with disabilities and celebrity supporters.

The seven-times Paralympic medallist Tara Flood, who has herself recieved a letter notifying her that she will be assessed, is one of those expected to attend.

Last week, she took part in a spoof opening ceremony where she was stripped of her Paralympic medals after a mock Atos assessment.

Campaigners gather outside Atos' office

Lanyard protest?

The protests follows speculation that ParaGB athletes decided to hide the Atos logos on their accreditation lanyards at the opening ceremony on Wednesday evening.

This speculation has been played down by Locog, which said on Thursday that it was unaware that athletes had concealed the branding and defended its use of Atos as a sponsor.

Officials have also suggested that ParaGB tucked their lanyards into their jackets to avoid them blowing about in the wind.

Atos has supported the Paralympics movement since 2002, sponsoring the 2004, 2008 and now the 2012 Games. It was appointed the official worldwide IT partner of the International Paralympic Committee in 2008.

Disability campaigners claim that Atos is running a flawed process to assess disabled people’s rights to benefits and is therefore an inappropriate sponsor of the Paralympic Games.

The UK Disabled People’s Council has said it has received many reports from members who have been assessed and lost benefits and added that many people have appealed their decision.

‘Beyond a joke’

One protester said that many people were confused about how Atos could on one hand sponsor the Paralympics, and on the other align themselves with those who deny people their benefits through “inhuman tests”.

He added: “I accept they say that they are only carrying out orders but they are being paid handsomely to carry out these orders. Anyone one with any common sense who was allowed to look at the computer system would immediately say ‘that is wrong, that is immoral, that is inhuman’.”

Another protester told Channel 4 News that the involvement of Atos is “casting a cloud over the whole Paralympics” for many disabled people.

She urged more current Paralympians to speak out adding that it was difficult to see them celebrating when they should be criticising Atos. “They owe a debt to the other people in the disability movement who have made the way for them and for what they have achieved now,” she said.

A spokesperson for UK Uncut defended the decision to protest during the Paralympics adding that they had deliberately held their demonstration away from the Olympic Stadium to avoid detracting from Paralympians’ achievements.

But she added that the Games provided a perfect opportunity to highlight the “hypocrisy of the government”.

She said: “How are we to support disabled athletes in fulfilling their potential, if their benefits are being cut?”

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