Friday, 31 August 2012

The 'closing Atos' demonstration 31/8/2012

Photo caption: Alan Wheatley of Haringey Green Party and Pete Murry of Brent Green Party at anti-Atos demo outside Atos Origin HQ in Trition Square, London NW1 today.

The 'closing Atos' demonstration was called by Disabled People Against the Cuts and UK Uncut, to protest at Atos Origin's sponsorship of the London Paralympics. The company is a 'top sponsor' of the London 2012 Paralympics even while what it gives to the Internalional Paralympic Committee is but a fraction of the £112m Atos Healthcare is paid per year by the Department for Work & Pensions to assess -- and generally deny -- disabled people's eligibility for disability benefits.

About 40% of claimants denied Employment & Support Allowance take their cases to tribunal. about 40% of those win their cases to tribunal, and 40% of those win their cases. The success rate for those who go to tribunal with legal support is 70%, and cuts to legal aid will no doubt skew the tribunal results in favour of Atos. Atos and its staff who deny seriously sick and disabled people their benefit entitlements are never fined for their 'errors' when a claimant wins their tribunal, and a recent National Audit Office report stated that the cost to the taxpayer of 'clearing up the mess' at tribunal is £60m. The NAO called for the 'commercially sensitive' and thus confidential contract between the DWP and Atos to be rewritten so that Atos would be penalised for 'errors'.

I would urge anyone going for any kind of disability benefits entitlement assessment with Atos to go with someone. If you go alone, it is just your word against theirs regarding how you are treated under the examination that is really more of an observation. Moreover, I was on an anti-Atos demo outside their testing facilities adjoining Neasden Jobcentre on Tuesday 28 August, with Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group. A woman with a walking stick and probably in her 50s came up to our group and told us her tale of having gone in their in her car from Hertfordshire for a 'Work Capability Assessment'. Though she had seen the adverse Panorama programme about how Atos Healthcare treats vulnerable people, it had not occurred to her that she should have someone to accompany her.

Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group has increasing experience of members accompanying others to such assessments, yet no experience under such circumstances of the way the lady we met was treated when she went alone. She said, "The woman 'doctor' was so rude! She said to me while I was having difficulties getting through the door into the examination room, 'Come on! I haven't got all day! I've got another patient to see after you,' and 'Your mobility problems can't be so bad if you wear lace-up shoes.'"

But she was not the only claimant to not think of getting others' support in attending the 'Work Capability Assessment'. Two of our members recently attended a meeting for unemployed workers groups aroung London that was hosted by TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber's Secretary Tom Mellish. None of those groups had thought of accompanying people to 'Work Programme' interviews or Atos 'examinations'.

While today's demonstration might not have actually closed Atos, more and more disability benefit claimants getting support in attending Atos 'Medical Examination Centres' are more likely to get civil treatment if they go with someone.

Alan Wheatley

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