Disabled activists are set to take part in a series of countrywide protests targeting the company that carries out the controversial assessments of eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits.
Protesters will target offices belonging to Atos Healthcare, the much-criticised company that tests disabled people’s “work capability” for the Department for Work and Pensions.
One of the protests will take place outside the London headquarters of Atos Origin, Atos Healthcare’s parent company.
Other demonstrations will take place in Edinburgh, Burnley, Leeds, Brighton, and Lydney in Gloucestershire, as part of a national day of protest against benefit cuts. Most of the actions on Monday (24 January) look set to target Atos.
The campaigning group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) is playing a central role in the London action and other protests.
Healthcare professionals working for Atos carry out the work capability assessment (WCA), the test introduced in 2008 to assess eligibility for employment and support allowance, the replacement for incapacity benefit.
In his independent review of the WCA in November, Professor Malcolm Harrington said widespread complaints about Atos staff “must be taken seriously”, and he criticised “poor decision making and a high rate of appeals”.
Official figures show that about two-fifths of appeals against a decision by Atos to find someone “fit for work” are successful.
Protesters now fear that Atos will also win the government contract to reassess all working-age people claiming disability living allowance from 2013.
Linda Burnip, a founding member of DPAC, said disabled people were “really, really angry about the WCA and how people are treated”.
Disabled students at the University of Birmingham are also planning a protest against government benefit and spending cuts they say will harm their future.
Student Claire Lister said they planned to protest against the “barriers to learning” the cuts would create, the work of Atos, and the impact the cuts would have when they left university.
The protests are the latest in a series organised by disabled activists against government spending cuts since last year’s general election, including an action against cuts to housing benefits, one by members of Mad Pride, and another during the Conservative party conference in Birmingham.
Meanwhile, DPAC is encouraging disabled people to sign up for a workshop that will help build “resistance” to the cuts.
The DPAC workshop will take place as part of A People’s Convention to Build Resistance to Cuts and Austerity, at which high-profile Labour MPs and union leaders will be speaking.
To book a place at the convention in London on Saturday 12 February, visit: http://righttowork.org.uk/2010/11/peoples-convention/
20 January 2011