by New Worker correspondent
DISABLED campaigners, along with their friends, families and supporters, took to the streets this week in the Atos Games – a protest at the involvement of the private company Atos in sponsoring the Paralympic Games.
The company is notorious for the work it does for the Department of Work and Pensions in assessing the capability to work of the disabled and long-term sick.
The tests it uses are computer based and it has been set an agenda to slash by £18 billion the overall sickness and disability costs to the Treasury.
The tests used pronounce people with terminal cancer and people with very severe disabilities fit to seek work or train for work.
With high levels on unemployment the chances of these people finding work, even if they could do it, are zero. What it means in effect is removing them from higher long-term benefits on to short-term unemployment benefits at greatly reduced rates.
And to secure even those benefits they have to go through a charade of looking for or training for work or face losing benefits altogether.
There have been many deaths and several suicides as a result of DWP decisions based on Atos reports as the disabled despair. DWP decisions can be changed on appeal but this takes many months without benefits and legal aid to help people appeal has been cut.
Recent editions of Dispatches and Panorama have exposed the pain to a wider audience. They documented an Atos "assessor" asking someone who had taken several overdoses why they weren't dead yet and there are stories of people being forced to walk until they collapse, before being declared "unfit for work".
An investigation by the Daily Mirror highlighted that 1,100 employment support allowance claimants died after being placed in "work-related activity groups" – that's 32 a week.
Protests began on Tuesday in Hull, Sheffield and Leeds over planned cuts to disability benefits. More protests are planned for the opening of the Paralympic Games.
In addition the Government faces a court action from disabled people over its decision to scrap the Independent Living Fund (ILF).
The case would be the latest in a series of high-profile judicial reviews of decisions by Government departments and other public bodies to slash services and spending due to the coalition’s deficit reduction plan.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is planning to close the ILF, which will see funding passed to local authorities and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The protesters say the plans to close the ILF – a Government-funded trust which helps about 19,700 disabled people with the highest support needs – are a huge threat to disabled people’s right to independent living.
They say the money will not be ring-fenced when it is passed to local authorities, with the Government’s consultation paper offering no details on how councils will be able to meet the extra costs of disabled people with high support needs who previously received ILF money.
And they fear many disabled people will be forces back into residential institutions – which in the long-term are more expensive to the Treasury.
Campaigners are also fighting the Government for their right to have a recording of their interviews with Atos assessors – something that could be a valuable tool in appealing against DWP decisions.
The on-line campaigning group False Economy says it has spoken to people who felt that their assessments were imprecise and unfair and that final reports did not necessarily reflect the facts of their disability.
This issue of recording work capability assessments and proof of accuracy of interpretation is essential.
The DWP's line is that people can ask to have their WCAs recorded, but only on official recording equipment – equipment that, as it turned out, seemed often to be broken, or unavailable, on days when people requested it.