20 February 2014
Atos - not capable of assessing work capability
On Wednesday 19 February a national day of action took place against Atos continuing in its role of carrying out work capability assessments. The action was called for by disability campaign groups Disabled People Against the Cuts and Black Triangle.
On Wednesday 19 February there were demonstrations nationwide against the infamous DWP contractor, Atos. Over 140 Atos offices across the country were picketed by disabled protesters and their supporters.
The company, first brought in by the previous Labour government, has been at the sharp end of the austerity programme since 2005. In a contract worth £110 million a year, Atos has been carrying out ruthless disability benefit examinations which have resulted in tens of thousands of disabled people being thrown into poverty.
Recently, a freedom of information request submitted to the DWP revealed that 10,600 disabled people had died within six weeks of being declared fit for work by Atos in 2011 alone. The response of Atos and the DWP to this revelation was to stop counting the number of people "fit for work" who die.
The anger, frustration and discontent in the disabled community is palpable. The demonstrations on Wednesday were the inevitable outcome of this. People across the country came out onto the streets and made themselves heard.
In Leicester, around 100 people gathered outside the Atos assessment centre. We had around 12 speakers give speeches, we had music and we had poetry. The atmosphere was upbeat and defiant. This was in stark contrast to the dour G4S security staff brought in for the day.
I was honoured to be one of the speakers and a local organiser for our demo. The event was initiated and run by disabled people from our area like myself, and we were given logistical support by our local Socialist Party branch.
We have organised a follow up meeting after the demo and we think that the confidence boost given to all who took action on the day will provide us with momentum for going forwards.
Atos is in retreat. For it, the demonstration and the ongoing campaign have been a PR disaster. The day after the demo the Financial Times reported that Atos is now seeking to exit its contract with the government.
Its representative cited "intimidation" as its main reason for wanting to withdraw. This is ironic for all of us who have been attacked by Atos over the years.
Taking on and then winning victories like this over a multinational giant with a £7.1 billion yearly revenue is a clear illustration of what ordinary working class people can achieve when we fight together.
Warrington residents and a few councillors were campaigning at a peaceful demonstration outside Atos work assessment centre in Tannery Court on Wednesday 19 February.
Atos is a profit driven multinational company hired by the government to assess the capability of disabled people to work. It has increasingly come under fire for its treatment of disabled people attending for work capability assessments.
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.
Councillor Kevin Bennett said:
"We are calling on the government to stop this degrading policy and introduce a fairer, transparent system that restores dignity to the sick and disabled.
"Over 40% of cases where people have been deemed fit to work, and had their benefits cut, have had their appeals upheld. However the appeals process can take months while some of the most vulnerable disabled are plunged into poverty.
"There have also been questions over the application of their tests, with claims that people are being wrongly recommended for work, or put through stressful medical interviews.
"The tests do not take into consideration the complex nature of people's illnesses, particularly for those with mental illness and this has led, in some cases, to those with long-term degenerative and terminal illnesses, such as Parkinson's and cancer, being told they are fit for work."
Warrington Socialist Party members
The Socialist Party made a splash in Carmarthen on Wednesday 19th, as part of the national day of action against Atos.
We started the day with a lobby of the council, opposing the £33 million in cuts, alongside Carmarthenshire Unison.
There was a crowd of around 30 activists from several organisations outside the office building that houses the Atos centre (and the offices of the local Labour Assembly member), many of them young people. There was a great reception from the local community and some joined the protest. Afterwards, we held a lively discussion about the cuts, disability rights and the role of socialists.
The day ended with a successful meeting, led by Les Woodward of the Llanelli and West Wales Socialist Party branch and former Remploy worker.
Following the successful demonstration, plans are now underway for a May Day march, and more coordinated action in the town.
The anti-Atos demo in Plymouth was supported by Socialist Party members as well as Plymouth TUSC candidates for the local elections in May: Tom Slowman, George Fidler, Ryan Aldred and Lou Aldridge. Atos decided to shut their office for the day of the demo.
With not a Labour councillor in sight, we know it is up to TUSC to challenge the attacks on people with disabilities.
Tom Taylor, Plymouth Socialist Party
The people of St Helens took to the streets last Wednesday, as part of the national demonstration against the government's Work Capability Assessments (WCA) and the company paid to implement them, Atos Healthcare.
The French company Atos has been a key part of the austerity programme. With a £110 million annual contract, the company has been responsible for carrying out inadequate heath assessments that have resulted in tens of thousands of disabled people being thrown into poverty.
This week, the death of Terry McGarvey, 48, has been in the headlines. Despite being seriously ill, he dragged himself to his WCA, terrified of losing his benefits. During the assessment, an ambulance was called - Terry died the next day in hospital.
One protester, Olivia Short, who has the genetic disorders Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome and a Pituitary Adenoma said:
"Over the past few years I have had multiple Work Capability Assessments and the results have varied from being found 'fit for work', another found I would be 'fit for work' in the future and put in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) which meant I got benefits for 12 months and then it was stopped.
"I am scared that when I go through the assessment again I could again be found 'fit for work' or even if I am put in the WRAG I will not receive any income as I have had my 12 months of payments."
As the anger and frustration of the disabled and wider community grows, Atos is now desperately trying to end its government contract early. But a new service provider will do little to address the main problem, that is, a computerised assessment system that fails to properly assess the people who it is meant to serve.
Debby Howard, St Helens Socialist Party
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 20 February 2014 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.