The Paralympics Demonstration Against Atos Healthcare in London, a set on Flickr.
Yesterday, Friday August 31, was the last day of the Atos Games, a week of events organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and UK Uncut against the jaw-dropping hypocrisy involved in Atos Healthcare, the French IT giant, being allowed to sponsor the Paralympic Games, while the company is also in charge of running the government’s Work Capability Assessments, a review process that is designed to find disabled people fit for work.
As a result, huge numbers of disabled people, who are not fit for work by any genuinely objective measure, are being driven into poverty — a wretched and cruel policy for a government that claims to have Christian values — and the results are leading directly to suicides, or other deaths through the stress involved. Undeterred, however, the government recently renewed Atos’ contract, to the tune of £400 million, and ministers are permanently involved in ignoring the inconvenient truth that, on appeal, tens of thousands of decisions made by Atos’ representatives are being overturned. The average is 40 percent, but in Scotland campaigners discovered that, when claimants were helped by representatives of Citizens Advice Bureaux, 70 percent of decisions were overturned on appeal.
As the Guardian explained when Atos’ contracts were renewed:
The government will replace the working-age Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with a new Personal Independence Payment (PIP), from next year and aims to cut spending by 20% over the next three years. DLA, which pays out a maximum of £130 a week, is a welfare payment designed to help people look after themselves and aimed at those who find it difficult to walk or get around.
Richard Hawkes, the chief executive of the disability charity Scope, told the Guardian how flawed the tests are. “Just this week the government and Atos … have come under a great deal of criticism about how this assessment is being delivered to disabled people,” he said. “Yet in less than a year from now, disabled people could have to go through two deeply flawed assessments in the same month to get the essential financial support they need to live their lives. Disabled people are incredibly anxious and afraid that the switch from DLA to PIP is just an excuse to cut the support they need. The decision about which private company will run the assessment is of little significance to the thousands of disabled people who are just deeply worried about losing their financial lifeline.”
As campaigners also explained, setting a pre-determined amount of government spending to be saved, as the Tories have done, “would lead to arbitrary judgments being made,” as around 500,000 people would — or will — have to have their benefits cut.
As with every ill-conceived and brutally destructive plan put forward by this government, it appears to be almost impossible to get ministers to acknowledge that they are wrong, although this week the spotlight of the mainstream media has at last focused on the horrors of the government’s attitude to the disabled, and Atos’ key role in supporting and implementing it. The spur for this has been the Paralympic Games, and has largely been triggered by Atos’ involvement as a sponsor. For myself, the most significant protest was made by the British athletes, who hid their Atos-sponsored lanyards during the opening ceremony, but it is a tribute to all the disabled campaigners who have been making their voices heard since the Tories seized power over two years ago in their unholy coalition with the Lib Dems that the mainstream media is finally waking up to the fact that something is deeply wrong in Britain today, and that much of that rot focuses on how the government is treating disabled people, as well as the important corollary: that the hypocrisy involved in praising disabled people whose disabilities do not prevent them from engaging in competitive sport while cutting financial support to others whose disabilities prevent them from doing so is disgusting.
Yesterday, to support the week-long events organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and UK Uncut, I traveled to Atos’ UK headquarters in Triton Square, on the other side of the Euston Road from Warren Street, where Santander are also based, for a protest that involved many hundreds of disabled campaigners and their supporters, and where I took the photos in this set. Please feel free to use the images, although a credit would be appreciated! I was delighted to note that Tara Flood, a gold medal-winning former Paralympian, came out in support of the campaign, speaking out while contractual obligations prevent competing athletes from criticising any of the Games’ sponsors. “It is a shocking irony that Atos is a main sponsor of London 2012 whilst destroying disabled people’s lives on behalf of the government,” she said.
There was no trouble from the authorities at Triton Square, but I was dismayed to hear that a separate group of campaigners who protested outside the Department of Work and Pensions, where ten protestors in wheelchairs actually made it into the lobby, were treated roughly by the police, as this video shows (and also see DPAC’s coverage here, and a statement in which it was noted that one disabled protestor had his shoulder broken):
The most poignant message I saw yesterday is the one that I have placed first in the photo set — marking the passing yesterday of Cecilia Burns, a disabled Scottish woman who died of breast cancer yesterday morning. As her friend’s placard noted, “Cecilia Burns — RIP. Declared ‘fit to work” in February by Atos. Died this morning. “Nil points’ for her breast cancer. Atos is a sick joke.”
I couldn’t agree more. So please, if you agree, and still have a heart, do all you can to support the disabled people of this country. Harangue your MPs to represent their disabled constituents more effectively, and let the government — and Atos — know that we will not be satisfied until their reign of terror is at an end.
Note: For my recent articles about the disabled, see: Today the Tories Took £100 A Week from Some of the UK’s Most Disabled People: How Can This Be Right?, RIP Karen Sherlock, Another Victim of the Tories’ Brutal, Heartless Disability Reforms, Doctors Urge Government to Scrap Callous Disability Tests and Where is the Shame and Anger as the UK Government’s Unbridled Assault on the Disabled Continues?
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On Facebook, I posted the photo, “The mark of a civilised society is how it treats its most vulnerable members”: http://www.flickr.com/photos/andyworthington/7905693408/in/set-72157631349194160/
And I wrote:
I thought this was perhaps the most important message amongst the excellent banners and placards at the protest against Atos Healthcare in London yesterday – for being a Paralympics sponsor while making disabled people destitute on behalf of the Tories. I don’t want to live in a country in which a majority of people accept that the poor, the weak, the old, the ill, disabled and the unemployed can be treated with contempt, and I want the people of my country to come together and kick the Tories out!
Mezentian Gate wrote:
The mark of a civilized society is how much it eschews violence as the means to its ends, and asserts that only mutually beneficial and voluntary associations are the basis of healthy human relationships…
Graham Ennis wrote:
How long before they introduce special measures for disabled people, with compulsory attendence at special centers, to “Acquire the Work habit”?
Very nicely put, Mezentian, and thanks for the share, George, and for posting the link to Atos’s history: http://atos.net/en-us/about_us/Company_Profile/company-history/default.htm
Also Graham, I think our scumbag masters are already circling around that option or have even gone further – sometimes requiring workfare for anyone without a job, whether disabled or not, and sometimes finding ways to cut off all support to the disabled. This remains the biggest shocker to me: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2012/04/30/today-the-tories-took-100-a-week-from-some-of-the-uks-most-disabled-people-how-can-this-be-right/
Steve Bubble wrote:
Good to see you again after all those years that just seem to fly by
Great to see you too, Steve. Such a pity that, in thinking back to when we first met 10 years ago, so much in the world has gone downhill. Keep up the good fight!
On Facebook, I also posted the photo, “RIP Cecilia Burns”: http://www.flickr.com/photos/andyworthington/7905679676/in/set-72157631349194160/
And I wrote:
Another photo from yesterday’s protest against Atos Healthcare’s towering hypocrisy – sponsoring the Paralympics, while running the Tories’ review process to cut benefits from disabled people and find even seriously ill people “fit for work.” The sign on the left was particularly poignant, as it was a remembrance for disabled campaigner Cecilia Burns, who died of breast cancer yesterday morning. There are many more people like Cecilia out there, scorned and abandoned by the Tories, the Lib Dems and Atos. Enough cruelty!
Mezentian Gate wrote:
Compassion is not about taking money from one group of people, keeping some, and then distributing to one’s friends ..
..and politicians are not compassionate people .. it’s not their money.
Thanks, Mezentian. We need people to examine politicians’ motives – and the lies they tell – much much more closely.
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
My pleasure, Andy. It can’t hurt to post this here too. It is a diagram of the full structure of Atos, with an account of the present firm’s history. It seems that Atos is neither Atos Origin nor truly French. Perhaps it is best described as a multinational registered as a stock company of type SA in France. Note the Siemans connection. I found this late last night (it’s Sunday here). http://atos.net/en-us/about_us/Company_Profile/company-history/default.htm
I hope someone can use this.
Beebs Tweet wrote:
Horrifying. To think that 32 die each week, found fit for work, with serious life threatening illnesses. There were two documentaries on Channel 4 and BBC a couple of weeks ago. It was chilling…
Thanks, Beebs. Yes, horrifying indeed. I posted the BBC documentary, “Disabled or Faking It?” here (bad title, but good programme): http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2012/08/08/where-is-the-shame-and-anger-as-the-uk-governments-unbridled-assault-on-the-disabled-continues/
Thanks again, George. It certainly helps to clarify how mega-corporations develop. I tend to fear all huge Hydra-like corporations, because of their power, and in the case of Atos we can see that clearly – “annual revenues of EUR 8.5 billion and employees 74,000 in 48 countries,” as they put it. And in addition, in how many places, I wonder, does all their money come from government contracts?
Zilma Nunes wrote, in response to 8, above:
Everywhere politians are the same…health insurance must be a human right to everyone in this planet…
Health insurance funded through a percentage of general taxation works best for me, Zilma, as with the NHS. Labour needs to rediscover the importance of this in the UK now that the Tories have begun dissolving the NHS through privatisation and rigged “competition.”
Agastyan Daram wrote:
I think in the US we need a choice of both. Its great if your employer provides good health care coverage. But many small businesses just can’t afford it leading to many without any care what so ever. And self employed people have it even worse..
So why not health insurance funded through a percentage of general taxation, Agastyan, as applies here in the UK? The NHS costs somewhere between 8 and 10 percent of GDP, as opposed to 16 percent-plus in the US, and we have a service that covers everyone, whereas anyone who’s not rich in the US lives in fear of becoming ill – and we’re talking millions of people. What we have in the UK is a genuine national insurance system. You may or may not use it, but everyone pays in, and if they need it, it’s there.
George Kenneth Berger wrote, in repsonse to 13, above:
That document surprised me. Before I found it, I thought that Atos and Atos Origin were identical, and that the expansion stopped in 2002, with the acquisition of KPMG UK and NL. I knew nothing about the name change and the Siemens deal. An inconclusive discussion over at ATOS MIRACLES aroused my interest. I posted the later document here, on my fb page, and on ATOS MIRACLES. One of the admins thanked me and posted it prominently.
Beebs Tweet wrote:
Unless there is cohesive strengthening of the various UK disabled groups, forming alliances with other larger leftist groups in France, EU level, there will be no changes in policies. The killings will continue. All I read points to the direction of phasing out welfare altogether. The NHS will no longer be free etc…
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
That’s probably correct.
Beebs Tweet wrote:
Excellent article for exposing Atos. Two friends of mine, one who was very rich, spent a fortune on finding a cure, ended up relying on welfare. Very ill, she passed away. Another, who had an excellent job, prospects etc… is now on welfare. Told me it would be kinder to be given the choice of euthanasia rather than being forced to crawl to work, deteriorate and die of a horrible death. In the end, there will be no safety net for anyone who is no longer productive, the elderly, etc..
Yes, sadly, Beebs, that’s the direction we’re headed, under neoliberal politicians, who have infected the whole political world. You are correct. We the people need to find solidarity across borders to fight back.
Esther Angel wrote:
Fantastic report and photos, many thanks as usual for your excellent reporting!
Ironically I managed to injure my left knee on Thursday on a long bike ride! Hoped it would be ok by Friday, but when it was still swollen and painful on Friday morning, I decided to give it more rest. I followed the live streams until everything turned sour with police showing up at Caxton House.
It was good to see so many people had turned out to the protest. The regular media only decided to show the Caxton House scene.
Thanks, Esther. Sorry to hear about your knee. Take it easy. Yes, as usual the mainstream media only took an interest in confrontation, and not in peaceful and creative protest.
I know for sure the only people who would want me for a job are money launderers, those are the only job offers I ever get in my inbox.
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