Disabled activists look set to target next month’s Paralympics in London in protest at the involvement of Atos Healthcare, the much-criticised company which carries out “fitness for work” tests on behalf of the government.
The grassroots campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said it would be holding five days of protests against Atos, which is a major sponsor of London 2012.
The protests were announced as the government revealed that Atos has been awarded two key contracts for assessing disabled people for eligibility for the new personal independence payment (PIP), the replacement for disability living allowance.
Disabled activists reacted with fury to the PIP announcement, with one describing it as “like turning the knife when they stab us”.
Two documentaries broadcast on the same day this week – for Dispatches on Channel 4 and Panorama on BBC Two – exposed poor practice at Atos.
DPAC said its protests – which it has labelled The Atos Games – would “strike a major blow” against the public image of the company it says is “most responsible for driving through the government’s brutal cuts agenda”.
DPAC made it clear that its protest was not aimed at Paralympic athletes or the Paralympic Games, but at the involvement of Atos in London 2012.
Paddy Murphy, a DPAC spokesman, said: “We’re not against the Paralympics or the athletes, but it’s completely inappropriate that Atos are sponsoring the games.
“Implementing the government’s welfare reform agenda, Atos have devastated the lives of hundreds of thousands of disabled people and made millions of pounds of profit doing it.
“Now they are trying to portray themselves as supporters of disabled athletes. It’s offensive.”
DPAC said that Atos uses “an inhumane computer programme” to carry out work capability assessments (WCAs) – which test eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits – and “trains its staff to push people off benefits”.
It points to the high number of successful appeals from disabled people found unfairly fit for work, and the decision of the British Medical Association to “demand” an end to the WCA.
Disabled activists have repeatedly pointed to links between the WCA and relapses, episodes of self-harm and even suicides and other premature deaths among those being assessed.
Only last month, Disability News Service reported how a young disabled woman had killed herself after being found “fit for work”. Her mother killed herself just 24 hours after hearing of her daughter’s death.
DPAC plans to deliver a coffin full of messages from disabled people to Atos on 27 August, with protests planned at local Atos offices across the country the following day.
On 29 August, there will be a “spoof Paralympic awards ceremony”, with plans the next day to “flood Atos with calls” and generate a huge reaction on the social media site Twitter.
The five-day protest will end on Friday 31 August with a major protest in London, which DPAC promises will be “an audacious, daring and disruptive action” and will coincide with the second day of Paralympic sporting action.
DPAC will again be working with the mainstream grassroots protest group UK Uncut and other anti-cuts organisations.
DPAC has held a series of high-profile direct action protests this year, with activists twice bringing traffic chaos to the centre of London by chaining their wheelchairs across pedestrian crossings.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said Atos was “one of 11 partners for the Olympics”, all of which “provide vital funding without which the games would not happen”.
She said: “The government regularly meets with disabled people and disability organisations about our welfare reforms and we listen to their concerns.
“However, it’s disappointing that a small number of organisations are protesting against their sponsorship of the Paralympic Games, especially given the improvements which have been made to the work capability assessment in the past two years.”
Atos refused to comment on the planned protests.
2 August 2012