Tomorrow, Friday 30th September, sees groups around the country taking part in protests against Atos Origin. Atos, for those unfamiliar with the company, were contracted by the Labour government to carry out assessments on those claiming disability benefits, currently making around £100 million a year in the process. In York, a protest has been called by York Welfare Campaign – part of York Stop the Cuts – for 12:30pm – 2:00pm at St. Samson’s Square.
For starters, there’s the test itself – the Work Capacity Assessment, consisting of a relatively short series of questions and answers to be put through a computer system, as oppose to information from people who might actually know the “client’s” needs, such as a doctor. This July, a parliamentary group of MPs described the test as “flawed“, citing the high number of successful appeals against Atos rulings (appeals which run to around £50 million in costs a year), the “fear and anxiety” caused to those undergoing the evaluation, and the fact that many of the judgements were, quite simply, wrong, with around 40% of cases being overturned on appeal – rising higher when those appealing had the benefit of legal advice.
Other groups have been a little more blunt. A recent summary of research into the company concluded:
All patients/claimants are in a no win situation. The DWP actively dismiss all complaints against AH.
Atos Healthcare is successfully running disability denial factories in the UK, funded by the DWP, and identical to those used in America by UNUM Insurance. There is nothing in place to stop them and all evidence that challenges AH medical reports or conclusions will be resisted. Patients/claimants have no protection. There are countless numbers of distressing stories available of genuine patients being traumatised following a visit to these government funded medical assessment centres, where no actual medical evaluation will be undertaken other than a seriously flawed computerised tick test.
The permitted activities of this private contractor are dangerous and, without medical supervision, the chronically sick and disabled people of this nation remain in jeopardy. It’s not enough that these victims endure such shocking treatment by this contractor but they are also placed under intolerable additional pressure, with the constant threat that their financial support will be removed, without warning, because the DWP want to save cash and the sick and disabled people of this country make very easy targets.
Atos has, unsurprisingly, come under fire from multiple quarters; disability rights groups such as Disabled People Against Cuts and Black Triangle, carers’ groups such as Carerwatch, and campaign groups including Benefit Claimants Fight Back, Coalition of Resistance and UK Uncut, plus anarchist groups including the Anarchist Federation, Glasgow Anarchists and others.
Atos, unsurprisingly, has gone on the offensive; as discussed here previously, they have chosen to launch legal threats against their online critics in a quite blatant show of intimidation. Some of those attacked – such as After Atos and DWPexamination – were taken down through legal threats to their website hosts, who rapidly complied for fear of legal action.
This August, Atos was forced to investigate after two of its employees were caught online describing their “clients” in overtly offensive terms. One described them mockingly as “down and outs”, an ordeal to work with (oddly enough, some of those who are disabled might actually have problems!), while the other, more succinctly, described them as “parasites”.
Meanwhile, around the same time, news broke that twelve doctors employed by Atos faced professional inquiries into allegations of misconduct.
In light of the above, Atos has become the target of opposition from multiple quarters – disability campaigners, anti-cuts groups, anarchists, socialists and others. Tomorrow sees action being taken around the country, while online protests have been called against those companies and other organisations associated with them.
As ever, government policy and cutbacks affect the most vulnerable first, and most harshly. Companies like Atos make a fortune from their contracts with the state – contracts given in return for denying people access to the basic funds needed to get through life with comfort, dignity and respect.
Love, rage and solidarity,
– York Anarchists