Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/656/11083
Defend the right to protest
Stop attacks on disabled claimants
on 24 January police 'kettled' a peaceful demonstration outside the central London headquarters of Atos Origin. John McDonnell MP has since tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM) in the House of Commons that 'commends' the demonstrators and expresses concern about the actions of the Metropolitan Police.
By a Unison member
Atos Origin is a focus for disabled people's anger because its health care division is contracted by the Department for Work and Pensions to carry out the notorious Work Capability Assessment for people applying for Employment and Support Allowance and those on incapacity benefit.
Police stopped more than 50 protesters from entering Atos Origin's HQ and soon after used metal fences to surround them, restricting them to a small area with only one exit. This containment tactic was first used by the Met against members of the Disabled People's Direct Action Network more than a decade ago.
Concerns were raised with the police by Linda Burnip of Disabled People Against Cuts about the impact on people with serious mental health conditions who were held behind the barriers.
The police also refused to allow disabled protesters to use toilet facilities in the Atos HQ or a local gym. This included a pregnant woman with a guide dog.
Atos' so-called 'assessments' are forcing tens of thousands of disabled people onto Jobseeker's Allowance who have no hope of finding employment. It is also exposing them to a strict sanctions regime that many will fall foul of; particularly those with mental health conditions and learning difficulties.
This will increase as the reassessment of incapacity benefit and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) claimants intensifies as part of the Tory/Liberal Democrat coalition's plans to save billions. These policies are supported by Ed Miliband's Labour Party and have their roots in the previous Blair and Brown Labour administrations.
As anger grows against Atos Origin, disabled people will continue to demonstrate against this company. Trade unions should demand that their sponsored MPs sign John McDonnell's EDM, publicly defend the right of disabled people to protest, and campaign to reverse Labour's support for the attacks on incapacity benefit and DLA claimants.
Disabled activists also need to play a central role in the developing anti-cuts movement and ensure that opposition to cuts means all cuts. Questions also need to be asked of the UK Disabled People's Council and the National Centre for Independent Living - their 'opposition' to the Con-Dem cuts makes Nero's fiddling whilst Rome burned look decidedly proactive!
- A protester outside Boots' Oxford Street store in London was subjected to CS gas sprayed by police on 30 January. She was part of a group protesting that big multinational companies like Boots avoid paying billions of pounds in taxes by registering abroad.
In The Socialist 2 February 2011:
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party youth and students
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party Marxist analysis