Hundreds of disabled people stepped up protests against the Paralympics sponsor Atos today as anger about the company's role in slashing the benefits bill intensifies.
Protesters gathered at the French company’s UK Head Quarters in central London this afternoon to commemorate the thousands of people who have died after being declared fit to work. Disabled People Against Cuts activists also marched on Atos offices in Cardiff, Glasgow and Belfast as part of a week of direct action dubbed the Atos Games.
Paralympic organisers defended the controversial sponsorship deal after being asked by journalists why a company hated by so many disabled people had been allowed to associate with the Games. “Without the sponsors there would be no Games,” said Jackie Brock-Doyle.
Atos has two lucrative benefits contracts with the Department of Work Pensions. Its 1,400 doctors, nurses and physiotherapists carry out the much maligned Work Capability Assessments used to decide whether an individual is fit for work immediately, in the medium term or not at all. This contract is worth £110m a year to Atos, and the appeals cost the taxpayer another £60m a year.
The impact of wrongly being declared fit to work can be enormous. Philip Bayes, 36, a former council road sweeper, was retired on medical grounds after reconstructive foot surgery left him unable to stand or walk properly.
Yet he was declared fit to work by Atos last year who awarded him zero points and according to his family, refused to look at the occupational health report which had declared him unfit. His ESA was immediately stopped and even though the appeal overturned this after considering the report several months later, the whole experience left him severely depressed, said his mother Christine Bayes, 64, from south London.
“He’s threatened to kill himself because he doesn’t want to be a burden on us all, we’ve been very worried. He needs an explanation about why that first assessment happened like it did.” She has referred the nurse to the NMC.
Atos has just been awarded a £400m contract to carry out mobility assessments on people currently on Disability Living Allowance. The government wants to reduce this bill by 20 per cent as it moves people on to Personal Independence Payments.
Former Gold medal Paralympian, Tara Flood, chief executive of the charity Alliance for Inclusive Education, told The Independent that if her mobility allowance is cut after her Atos assessment next year, she will no longer be able to work.
The biggest turnout from the DPAC protests is expected at the Atos Games closing ceremony on Friday when former Paralympians are expected to attend.
Jenny Sealey, the Opening Ceremony’s artistic director who is deaf, said: “If the budget [for the ceremony] was over inflated I would feel very very uncomfortable knowing what is happening around cuts for deaf and disabled people.
“Because the disability movement has been so hard, there have been so many battles, if we boycotted it we would just fade away. We would be ghettoised all over again. So the Paras is monumentally important to remind people that we are here, we have rights. Our whole production is about rights and reasons. We have a world stage to communicate those rights.”