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AtoS and the U.K. Disabled Protests Regarding Disability Benefit Assessments

  • Date: 2012/09/03 (Rev. 2012/09/18)
  • Disabled World News
  • Synopsis : Information and comments on the disability allowance cuts involving AtoS which carries out fit for work assessments for the UK government.

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Atos have come under fierce scrutiny for their handling of the U.K.'s DWP's 100 Million Pounds a year contract to assess whether claimants for incapacity benefits are "fit for work". Up to 150 disability rights campaigners have been protesting outside IT firm Atos, which carries out "fit for work" assessments for the U.K. government.

Campaigners say its tests for people on disability allowances are "damaging and distressing" and have led to suicides. Some 40% of the 738,000 assessments carried out last year were appealed against, of which 38% were upheld - (www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/aug/31/paralympic-sponsor-atos-hit-protests).

Since 2008 Atos Healthcare on behalf of the government has been assessing and discounting the disabled at a rate of over 3,000 per day and 800,000 per year - (www.afteratos.com)

Atos has been the focus of controversy over its sponsorship of the 2012 London Paralympic Games while contracted by the DWP to carry out "fitness to work" tests, which campaigners argue are part of a money-saving drive to reduce benefit payments. Atos said it ensures its service is "professional" and "compassionate". One protester said that many people were confused about how Atos could on one hand sponsor the Paralympics, and on the other align themselves with those who deny people their benefits through "inhuman tests".

From the Atos Website (www.atoshealthcare.com/services/disability_assessment):

...Atos Healthcare carries out disability assessments on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). If you are claiming benefits as a result of a disability or injury, you may be required by the DWP to have an assessment with a qualified health care professional as part of your claim process. Atos Healthcare conducts disability assessments, using criteria set out by government, and provides the DWP with independent advice which is used by a DWP Decision Maker, along with any other information they have received, to decide on your entitlement to benefit...

Andrew Cox, a spokesperson from UK Uncut said in a press release:

"The government have been making huge cuts to welfare provision, even though their own research shows that less than 0.5% of welfare claims are fraudulent. They are making disabled people a scapegoat for the economic crisis - they are being punished with welfare cuts, while the banks and the big businesses are getting off scot-free. The government could clamp down on tax avoidance and get back billions, the savings they will make from cutting welfare do not even come close, and they are devastating people's lives -(www.ukuncut.org.uk/blog/disabled-activists-and-uk-uncut-blockade-the-dwp)

A spokeswoman for the French multinational Atos has been quoted as saying: "We fully respect people's right to peaceful protest and we understand this is a highly emotive issue. We do not make decisions on people's benefit entitlement or on welfare policy but we will continue to make sure the service that we provide is as highly professional and compassionate as it can be."

A U.K. government spokesman stated: "It's disappointing that a small number of organizations are protesting against sponsorship of the Paralympic Games, which is an opportunity to showcase the talents of disabled people and act as a catalyst for our sporting talents of the future."

Over 400 protesters from Disabled People Against the Cuts (www.dpac.uk.net) and U.K. Uncut (www.ukuncut.org.uk) protested on Friday Aug 31st outside Paralympic sponsor Atos' headquarters and the Department for Work and Pensions in London - Police Fracture Wheelchair User's Shoulder During Peaceful Protest Outside DWP. Friday's action was the end of a sustained week of creative direct action against Atos by the two direct action groups, Disabled People Against the Cuts and U.K. Uncut, and was timed to coincide with the first week of the Paralympic Games in London.

The Medical Protection Society and the British Medical Association have both demanded that the tests be halted immediately. It is believed that Atos staff are being pressured into unfairly declaring people "fit for work" so that they can fulfill targets set by the U.K. government, which is aiming to cut around 20% from the welfare bill in the country - (www.digitaljournal.com/article/331929)

A cancer sufferer, who had her benefits cut by government officials who said she was fit to work, has died. Cecilia Burns had started a campaign in February to have the decision overturned. During her campaign the County Tyrone woman said she was "disgusted" after the government cut her sickness benefit and told her she was fit to work even though she was still undergoing treatment for breast cancer - (www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-19433535).

Atos forced to investigate after employee's 'parasites' comment on website

Two employees of the company that carries out the controversial "fitness for work" tests for the government have been caught making offensive comments about their disabled customers on a social networking website - (www.update.org.uk/news-detail.phppage=161)

In a Press Release Dated 2nd August 2012:

The Department for Work and Pensions awards two of the PIP assessment contracts to Atos

Atos today announced that its business division and leading occupational health provider in the UK, Atos Healthcare, has been awarded a five year contract by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). DWP has awarded two contracts to Atos Healthcare covering Scotland, North East England, North West England, London and Southern England. Atos Healthcare will conduct assessments designed by the DWP for the delivery of the Personal Independence Payment - (atos.net/en-us/Newsroom/en-us/Press_Releases/2012/2012_08_02_01.htm)

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