Demonstrations against Atos took place in Southampton, Canterbury and outside of Atos Head office in Brighton – at the end of last month. Atos Healthcare is the private company that has been contracted by the Coalition Government to assess whether sick and disabled people are ‘fit for work’. ITV covered the demonstrations, fostering campaigners’ hopes that the issue is getting onto the public agenda.
Assessments made by Atos’ assessors have been controversial. Protesters said that the methods being used are not fit for purpose, and that assessors are not medically trained. They have come under fire for wrongly assessing thousands of people as fit for work, leading to their benefits being stopped. More than 40% of people who have appealed their assessments have had the decision overturned.
The demonstrations show the anger felt by many people with disabilities. A woman chained herself to Atos offices in protest at the company’s role in assessing whether disabled people are capable of working. And Leelee, travelled to Brighton to take part in the peaceful protest. She said: “I didn’t plan to handcuff myself, but we’ve had enough and this can’t keep going on.”
A DWP spokesman said: “The WCA (Work Capability Assessment) was introduced in 2008 by the previous Government, which appointed Atos as the sole provider. We have made, and continue to make, significant improvements to the WCA process…However we think it’s right to see what work people can do with the right support, rather than write people off on out-of-work sickness benefits as sometimes happened in the past.”
A spokesman for Atos said: “We absolutely respect people’s right to peaceful protest, and we are well aware that being assessed for benefit entitlement can be a difficult experience. However, lobbying against Atos will have no impact on welfare policy. It is not, nor has it ever been, our role to make decisions on who can or cannot receive benefits.” This statement shows the problem of governments contracting out to private organizations, who cannot or do not wish to be made accountable.
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “The government’s own figures last year showed that 10,600 people died within six weeks of being declared ‘fit for work’ by Atos. This alone should have set alarm bells ringing that the assessments were not fit for purpose”.
Campaigning groups Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and the Black Triangle Campaign were some of the demonstration’s organisers. DPAC’s mission statement reads: “The austerity measures…need to be seen in a wider historical context. Disabled people are an easy target because society has accepted the view that generally speaking disabled people are unable to fully participate within society due solely to our impairments”.
Written by Ghazal Tipu