Disability rights protesters invade government building by GlynnePowell


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Campaigners against changes to disability benefit rules
invade the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)
following a protest outside the offices of one of the
Paralympic Games' main sponsors Atos.

The breakaway protest at the DWP saw campaigners gain entry to
the government building. Channel 4 News's Alex Thomson
reported that 10 protesters in wheelchairs were inside the
building with a 200-strong blockade outside forcing staff to use a
side entrance.
A spokesman for the department confirmed that protesters had
gained entry.

It followed a demonstration organised by Disabled People Against
Cuts (DPAC) and UK Uncut outside the headquarters of Atos aimed
to highlight opposition to the work capability assessments (WCA)
that Atos carry out on behalf of the government.

Campaigners claim these assessments are destroying the lives of
sick and disabled people.

Atos have come under fierce scrutiny for their handling of the
DWP's £100m a year contract to assess whether claimants for
incapacity benefits are "fit for work".

More than 700 protesters from across the UK were expected to
descend on Atos's headquarters in the Euston area of London.

'Creative direct action'

The two groups have promised "creative direct action" at what is
billed as The Closing Atos Ceremony, which completes a week of
protests against the company.

Performers who took part in the Paralympic opening ceremony –
who, due to contracts, have been unable to speak out against
Atos – will be at the protest, along with high-profile entertainers
with disabilities and celebrity supporters.

The seven-times Paralympic medallist Tara Flood, who has herself
recieved a letter notifying her that she will be assessed, is one of
those expected to attend.

Last week, she took part in a spoof opening ceremony where she
was stripped of her Paralympic medals after a mock Atos
                                Lanyard protest?

                                The protests follows speculation
                                that ParaGB athletes decided to
                                hide the Atos logos on their
                                accreditation lanyards at the
                                opening ceremony on Wednesday

This speculation has been played down by Locog, which said on
Thursday that it was unaware that athletes had concealed the
branding and defended its use of Atos as a sponsor.

Officials have also suggested that ParaGB tucked their lanyards
into their jackets to avoid them blowing about in the wind.

Atos has supported the Paralympics movement since 2002,
sponsoring the 2004, 2008 and now the 2012 Games. It was
appointed the official worldwide IT partner of the International
Paralympic Committee in 2008.

Disability campaigners claim that Atos is running a flawed
process to assess disabled people's rights to benefits and is
therefore an inappropriate sponsor of the Paralympic Games.

The UK Disabled People's Council has said it has received many
reports from members who have been assessed and lost benefits
and added that many people have appealed their decision.

'Beyond a joke'

One protester said that many people were confused about how
Atos could on one hand sponsor the Paralympics, and on the other
align themselves with those who deny people their benefits
through "inhuman tests".

He added: "I accept they say that they are only carrying out
orders but they are being paid handsomely to carry out these
orders. Anyone one with any common sense who was allowed to
look at the computer system would immediately say 'that is
wrong, that is immoral, that is inhuman'."

Another protester told Channel 4 News that the involvement of
Atos is "casting a cloud over the whole Paralympics" for many
disabled people.

She urged more current Paralympians to speak out adding that it
was difficult to see them celebrating when they should be
criticising Atos. "They owe a debt to the other people in the
disability movement who have made the way for them and for
what they have achieved now," she said.

A spokesperson for UK Uncut defended the decision to protest
during the Paralympics adding that they had deliberately held
their demonstration away from the Olympic Stadium to avoid
detracting from Paralympians' achievements.

But she added that the Games provided a perfect opportunity to
highlight the "hypocrisy of the government".

She said: "How are we to support disabled athletes in fulfilling
their potential, if their benefits are being cut?"

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