OCCUPYING THE DWP
01 September 2012
A guest post from Kate Belgrave, reporting on yesteday's
actions against Atos and their context.
The trouble came towards the end of the rally, rather
than the beginning.
At about 2.30pm, Disabled People Against Cuts and
UK Uncut, the organisers of yesterday's protest at Atos
Healthcare's hated eligibility tests for the disability
benefit called Employment and Support Allowance,
moved the action to the Department for Work and
Pension's Westminster headquarters.
A not-particularly-threatening scene unfolded as a row
of protestors – some in wheelchairs, some standing
alongside – arranged itself outside the front door and
began to chant and sing for the facing crowd and
cameras. A row of amazingly po-faced coppers (some
in the crowd said they were TSG (Territorial Support
Group)) held a humourless line behind the singers.
I was standing right in front of them, facing them, with
the row of wheelchairs between us. They did not
appear minded to human interface. Possibly, they
were pissed at their own late arrival. A number of
protestors had made it inside the building with a list of
demands for Chris Grayling and Maria Miller, the
minister for disabled people, before the police could
stop them. The atmosphere around the rest of the
protest was both cheerful and rowdy, with lots of
people singing “you can stick your work assessment
up your arse. UP YOUR ARSE!” – but genial enough
for lusty dancing and for Disabled People Against
Cuts’ Adam Lotun to manage to shush everyone up
(after half-an-hour or so of trying), to announce his
candidacy for the upcoming by-election in Corby.
The police started the pushing, as you can see in the
next video below. If the crowd had started it – or won it
– the protest would have ended up in the building's
foyer – i.e. in the direction that everyone, except the
police, was facing.
Certainly, my feeling was that their aim was to shove
everyone away from the building, rather than into it.
“Shove” is the word, all right. “Bulldoze” is probably
another. You can see in the next video that a few
people went to ground and that I was filming from a
strange angle on it. It seems that people in
wheelchairs were caught up in the charge. I can't see
how they would have avoided it. They were sitting in
front of the police when the police started to shove
forward. DPAC reports that in the crush, one protestor
had his shoulder broken.
You can see in this video that the pushing and shoving
went on for a while and that the rows of police were
This all happened after there'd been a good turnout
and feisty scenes outside Atos HQ in Triton Square
earlier in the day, as you can see here:
But ambushing and infiltrating the DWP was an
inspired move – a nice little shot at the heart of the
beast. Because the DWP is Chris Grayling's patch –
the hated driver (if not instigator – Labour started it) of
neoliberalism's most recent, and cruellest, assaults on
welfare. As the government has phased incapacity
benefits out and the Employment and Support
Allowance in, thousands of ESA claimants
have appealed Atos decisions to find them fit for work –
a 40% successful appeal rate. The loathed Atos work
capability assessment – an all-too-basic “medical”
reckoning that tests candidates against a controversial
list of descriptors and brief physical tests - sits at the
centre of of ESA applications.
Indeed, GPs have called for the scrapping of these
computer-based WCAs, describing the tests
"inadequate" and having “little regard to the nature or
complexity of the needs of long-term sick and disabled
I've interviewed people myself who felt that their
assessments were imprecise and unfair – that the final
reports written on their ESA claims bore little relation
to the facts they shared at their WCAs. Said Paul, from
Cheshire: "there was no sympathy at all [at my
assessment]. They even got my date of birth and my
medication wrong. They said I went out shopping and
visiting my brother - none of which was true. I can't go
out of the door on my own.” Paul was found fit for work
at his first assessment - a decision which was
overturned on appeal.
Right now, I'm working with Steve, a man in his 50s
with schizophrenia, who was found fit for work even as
his schizophrenia worsens and his support disappears
in service cuts and lost budgets: “I do have suicidal
thoughts and I get really depressed...Yes, I do
hallucinate [especially at night]...I see things like giant
squid and things like that…I think I’m being eaten
alive…. The community mental health team is
overwhelmed…I’m not as ill as others, but I do think
that I need some help and I get very little. I’ve had to
fight for what I’ve got so far, even when I’ve had a
relapse and the police have been called and things like
that.” People with mental health illnesses were
recently granted permission for a judicial review to
challenge the operation of WCAs.
Little wonder that people protest.
Read more by Kate Belgrave on her blog, False
Economy and theGuardian.