The Scottish National Party (SNP) has refused to say if “fitness for work” contractor Atos should be allowed to sponsor the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, even though more than half of its MSPs have publicly criticised the company.
Glasgow 2014 looks set to face even fiercer protests than London 2012 over the decision to accept sponsorship money from Atos, which carries out the much-criticised work capability assessments (WCAs) that decide eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits.
The London 2012 organising committee LOCOG was heavily criticised for signing up Atos as a sponsor, but continued to defy critics by publicly praising the company and the crucial role it played in providing IT systems during this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games.
LOCOG faced repeated calls to justify the involvement of Atos – particularly its close links with the Paralympics – with campaigners holding a week-long series of protests they called the “Atos Games” to coincide with the first week of the Paralympic Games.
Now the organisers of Glasgow 2014 look set to take a similar route to LOCOG, and are facing the same battle to justify sponsorship by Atos, which will provide similar IT services in Glasgow to those it delivered this summer in London.
Sasha Callaghan, programme director for Disability History Scotland, said: “Whether they like it or not, there are going to be more protests and probably much more bad-tempered than we ever saw in London.
“Disabled people are not just going to sit back and take this. Push people over the edge and you see what happens. I don’t think this will stop at just peaceful direct action.”
She warned of a “perfect storm” in the run-up to Glasgow 2014, as tens of thousands of disabled people in Scotland will be facing new assessments – carried out by Atos – for personal independence payment (PIP), the replacement for disability living allowance (DLA), as well as the continued fallout from the WCA process.
Callaghan said Glasgow 2014 had to accept that it had taken a “political decision” to accept sponsorship from Atos and would “have to live with the consequences of that”.
She said: “DLA/PIP will ratchet up the protests. The time-line for the Commonwealth Games runs like a thread alongside it.
“The Commonwealth Games will be going with the Atos logo at the same time that people will be failing the WCA and their assessment for PIP as well.”
Protesters – and many MPs and MSPs – have criticised the way Atos has carried out WCAs, and its failure to find accessible offices in which to carry out the tests and to train its assessors properly.
Campaigning disabled people’s organisations such as Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and Black Triangle believe the assessments, as carried out by Atos, are putting thousands of sick and disabled people under serious and unnecessary strain, forcing them further into poverty, and are even responsible for many deaths, including some people driven to suicide.
John McArdle, a founding member of Black Triangle, which is based in Scotland and has been at the centre of the Atos protests, said: “There will definitely be protests. We are not going to wait until 2014 to do it. There will be direct action happening.”
Even though 36 of its 67 MSPs have signed parliamentary motions critical of Atos over the last five weeks, the SNP has so far refused to say if it believes Atos is a suitable sponsor for Glasgow 2014.
Jamie Hepburn, one of the MSPs who signed a motion criticising Atos, and deputy convener of the Scottish parliament’s welfare reform committee, said: “There is no doubt that Atos could and should be doing better but it is the UK government’s cuts campaign that is truly devastating people’s lives.”
But an SNP spokeswoman refused to say whether the party thought Atos was a suitable sponsor for Glasgow 2014.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish (SNP) government also refused to answer that question, but said that “securing the right sponsors is vital to the success of the event and to reduce the need for additional public funds to stage the games”.
A Glasgow 2014 spokeswoman said Atos had “demonstrated unwavering commitment to driving forward the Paralympic movement by providing dedicated practical support to athletes for the last ten years”, and that organisers were “very proud to have global IT experts Atos as part of our family”.
20 September 2012