DISABILITY campaigners around Britain last Friday staged a Day of Action against the private company employed by the Government to conduct tests on the disabled with a view to getting as many as possible off of long-term benefits and on to the much lower Job Seekers’ Allowance.
In Islington nearly 100 people with a wide range of disabilities, their friends and supporters staged a protest outside a British Medical Journal recruitment fair where Atos was attempting to recruit doctors – many of them newly arrived in Britain – and other medical personnel to become assessors.
There were speeches from the Islington and national Disabled People Against Cuts groups, Winvisible, PCS representatives, Mad Pride, student groups, Queer Resistance, Right To Work and many more.
Campaigners handed out leaflets, reminding possible recruits of their Hippocratic Oath: “First do no harm….”
They have also put pressure on the British Medical Journal to refuse to take recruiting adverts from Atos on the grounds that working for Atos is contrary to the good health of the patients.
Atos assessments have repeatedly ignored the evidence of GPs and consultants in preference to a short, computer-based test to assess people’s ability to work.
Assessors are required to carry out assessments in fields in whish they are not qualifies, such as mental health.
They have declared people with terminal cancer and many other very serious conditions as fit to work.
A recent study by the mental health charity Mind found that 75 per cent of the people it surveyed said the prospect of work capability assessment made their mental health worse and 51 per cent said it had left them with suicidal thoughts.
Some people with mental ill-health and other conditions have committed suicide as a result of Atos decisions.
Those who are denied long-term sickness benefit and transferred to Job Seekers’ Alliance are compelled to prove they are actively seeking work or they face losing that benefit as well and could become completely destitute.
A former employee of Atos said: “The job was making me sick. It is against my principles to treat people with long-term illnesses in such a disgusting way. So I had to give it up.
“People go into those interviews and talk openly to you because you are a nurse and they trust you.
“Then your skills are used against them, to take away their benefits and destroy their lives.”
The Islington event was covered by Channel 4 and BBC radio. Many speakers made the point that attacks on the most vulnerable is all part of the Government’s agenda to make the people pay for a financial crisis they didn’t create.
One speaker pointed out that more than 40 per cent of the people who appeal against Atos decisions have their benefits reinstated and that figure rises to 90 per cent for those who have legal representation.
But Government cuts to legal aid, Citizens’ Advice Bureaux and other legal support is taking away vulnerable people’s only defence against wrong decisions by Atos.
In Brighton 50 people joined the day of action. Several different groups were there including Brighton benefits campaign, Solidarity group, others.
Seventeen towns and cities around the country saw actions and protests outside Atos offices, including Oxford, Hastings, Edinburgh, Sheffield, Chatham, Manchester, York, Leeds, Chester, Plymouth, Bristol, Glasgow and Birmingham.