Giving #Atoss about disability
As the end of the London Paralympic Games draws closer, the
legacy of the event for the disabled community is on the
agenda. Will the inspiration and excitement have a lasting
positive outcome for people with disabilities in Britain?
Many campaigners are unconvinced. They are also angry at the
Games’ sponsorship by Atos. The company is deeply
unpopular for its Work Capability Assessments (WCAs), which
help the Department for Work and Pensions decide who
receives health and disability related benefits and who is ‘fit
The tests have come in for a huge amount of criticism for being
inaccurate and unfair as the government tries to cut the cost of
the welfare bill, leaving many without the support they depend
When Atos’ sponsorship of the Paralympics was announced, it
caused an outcry. Many found it offensive that the organization
was going to be so closely associated with an event celebrating
the best of disabled sport.
Last week saw the climax to a week of action by activists intent
on ramming home the message that the French company don’t
#giveatoss about disabled people. On Friday 31
August Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) and UK
Uncut teamed up outside Atos’ UK headquarters for a ‘Closing
Protesters also blockaded and occupied the Department for
Work and Pensions (DWP). As police broke up the
demonstration outside, DPAC reported one arrest, several
injuries to protesters and damage to one woman’s wheelchair.
In a poignant twist, Friday’s protest also coincided with
the death from cancer of 51-year-old Cecilia Burns from
Northern Ireland – just six months after DWP found her ‘fit to
work’ following an Atos assessment.
Earlier in the week DPAC staged a vigil outside Atos, delivering
a coffin to remember others who had died, including people
who committed suicide after receiving their assessment
Elsewhere, actions included a mass ‘die-in’ in Cardiff’s city
centre, which blocked a major road, as well as a blockade
in Manchester outside an Atos office.
Paralympians themselves have voiced their concern about
Atos. Former swimmer and seven-time medal winner Tara
Flood played a role in the ‘Atos Games’ as part of a spoof
ceremony where she had a medal awarded then taken away
after an Atos assessment.
During the opening ceremony of the Paralympics it was
thought Team GB were hiding their Atos-branded lanyards in
an act of protest. However, team officials later denied this.
The Paralympics and whether they benefit the struggles of
disabled people has become a thorny issue. Activists have been
accused of drawing attention away from the games and the
achievements of the athletes.
However, there is feeling among some disabled people that the
perception of the Games as strengthening their cause is
unhelpful; after the buzz has died down people will still face
the same barriers.
‘I think if anything it’s actually reinforcing that idea of
deserving and undeserving that the government and the
rightwing media have been really promoting with their whole
rhetoric of benefit scroungers,’ says Ellen Clifford from DPAC.
Atos was the publicized focus of the last week of action but
DPAC are now keen to raise the profile of other aspects of their
work, including lobbying government and politicians.
‘Obviously if you got rid of Atos the DWP would just pay
someone else to do it,’ points out Clifford.
Andrew Cox, a spokesperson from UK Uncut, said in a
statement: ‘The government have been making huge cuts to
welfare provision, even though their own research shows that
less than 0.5 per cent of welfare claims are fraudulent. They
are making disabled people a scapegoat for the economic
One of the things on the list of demands handed into the DWP
on Friday was the maintenance of the Independent Living
Fund, which makes payments to disabled people aimed at
helping them live within the community, for example by
employing people for personal care.
Currently closed to new applications, the future of the fund is
currently out to publicconsultation, with the deadline of 10
Although a lot of anti-cuts anger has been directed at the
Conservatives (as leaders of Britain’s coalition government),
disability campaigners are not letting Labour off the hook.
‘One of things that we’re looking at is to educate Labour to
make sure that if they get into power they’re not going to do
the same things they did before,’ says Clifford. ‘We’re very
aware that Labour brought in the Work Capability
‘We want to send a clear message to Labour that disabled
people are not going to support them unless we trust them.’
DPAC will hold a Paupers' Picnic for Independent Living on 13
September in London. You can find out more from their website.
You can watch a video by Small Axe Films from Friday's