Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Disabled, disgruntled, but not disheartened

TIRELESS campaigner John McDonnell MP has another Early Day Motion in the Commons, and it draws well-deserved attention to an important front-line struggle and some very brave people waging it.

EDM 1344


McDonnell, John

That this House commends those people with disabilities who demonstrated outside the headquarters of ATOS to protest at the role of this company in the administration of benefits for people with disabilities, which has resulted in the loss of benefits, increased poverty and suffering; and expresses its concern that a number of demonstrators considered that they were Last week, a group of people gathered in London's Triton Square to protest against the actions of Atos Origin, the company contracted by the government to deal with the administration of disability benefits. Atos have so far carried out this task in a way that has led to many disabled people losing benefits they desperately need.

ATOS Origin is not a company I'd heard of before, but then I don't suppose it has become a household name yet, having only been formed ten years ago by French and Dutch partners, and specialising in information technology services for organisations that are outsourcing.

But Atos is no small, backstreet business. It is currently operating in some 40 countries, and employing nearly 50,000 people. It's revenue in 2009 was €5.127 billion, and its profit that year was €31.7 million (2009). It has entered a tie up with Siemens.

In this country, Atos experience in automated train ticket sales, on which I won't comment, has apparently qualified it to deal with human beings struggling to survive in our society. It is charged with carrying out the government's aim of "helping disabled people into employment", i.e. taking away their benefits.

In the autumn of 2008, Atos Origin was one subject of a government enquiry after Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the company would have "to explain itself", over a memory stick with passwords and user names for an important government computer system was found in a pub car park. The Department of Work and Pensions, who had awarded Atos Origin the Government Gateway contract, later confirmed that the memory stick had only held the data of just a handful of people and all of their password information was encrypted. But Atos also face controversy over the DWP Medical Testing Programme of disabled people which often finds large number of severely disabled people fit for work who then have to take the matter through a long appeal process to overturn the Atos findings. Even terminally ill people have been found fit for work by Atos, Around 40% of cases are won by the claimant.

Disabled people, and organisations such as Disabled People Against Cuts, were joined by members of anti-poverty groups such as London Coalition Against Poverty in a demonstration outside Atos this month. "Yet," as Sarah Ismail, writing in the Guardian yesterday complains, "the mainstream press completely failed to cover the event. Many disabled people are disappointed by this – one person even said they had emailed the BBC to ask why, but had not yet received any response.

"Disabled people following the event on Twitter were shocked when a member of Disabled People Against Cuts asked their followers to spread the word that protesters were being kettled. Later that night, an account of the kettling, along with a photo of the barriers placed around the group, appeared on the organisation's blog, describing the incident as 'a kind of containment'.

Protester Lisa Egan told me on Monday night that she had been allowed out to get a cup of tea. She added: "They had fences around the protest but we weren't detained in that area, we were free to leave it."

While this was slightly reassuring, I believe that the kettling of anyone, however brief, is terrible. I believe that the police need to be sent a strong message that no one will tolerate kettling. However, the use of the practice on a group of people whose health may be affected more negatively than most by the experience is particularly shocking and unforgivable. That's why I was very pleased to hear about an early day motion , tabled by John McDonnell MP on Tuesday, which expresses concern at the kettling of protesters during Monday's event.


A participant in the Atos demonstration adds:
"As one of the people at the protest I expressed my concerns to the police that people with serious medical conditions had been barricaded in by metal barriers and was told by the inspector in charge that this was our own fault as we hadn't stayed where the police wanted us too. Apparently we shouldn't have pushed our way through the police lines the way we did to get closer to ATOS's office.

"However there is so much ill-feeling towards ATOS and the way they are wrecking disabled people's lives and resultant suicides and self- harming that it was impossible to stop people pushing past the police to get near the office. The elderly disabled man who was dragged out of the crowd by the police was merely speaking his mind about ATOS and the coalition government. ..

Also while Lisa may have been able to go and get a cup of tea one blind pregnant woman was refused permission to leave the kettle and go to the toilet.

According to the press disabled people's issues, including their suicides as a result of their treatment by ATOS and DWP is not newsworthy, so I have no idea what we have to do to get serious media attention about our causes. Of course due to the repeated disablist reporting in the trash papers the majority of the public has been softened up to the idea that most of us are nothing more than fraudulent benefit scrounging scum whether or not we do receive any benefits".

The contributor had heard that demonstrators had been worse treated in Scotland, and this was added today:

"I write as one who attended the protest outside of the offices of Atos Origin in Livingston, Scotland. When we arrived there were already 40 police officers waiting for us - I do not exaggerate - we have photographs and film to prove it.

We were not allowed any where near the entrance of the building and I would describe the policing of the event as very heavy-handed, intimidating and well over the top. A woman was manhandled by a police officer and is making an official complaint of assault.

We were filmed constantly by police who also attempted to film number plates of attendees as we were leaving. Most of the people at the demonstration had major disabilities.

We at the Black Triangle Anti-Defamation Campaign in Defence of Disabled Claimants found the attitude and policing of the event utterly unacceptable and disgraceful, lacking in all civil propriety and a violation of our human rights to make a stand in the face of this diabolical system designed as it is to defraud disabled people of the meagre allowances and supports that they need to make life worth living.

In spite of having publicised our event in good time beforehand - not one of the mainstream media players here locally or nationally bothered to even give us a mention.

What will it take for you to do so?

Do we have to douse ourselves in petrol and set ourselves alight at the gates of number 10 before you and the wider society wake up and pay attention to what is happening to our community?

Shame on you!

Yes, you, and you, and YOU! All of you who stand idly by and do absolutely nothing to defend us!


On your own consciences be it. May it HAUNT YOU ALL!

John McArdle

I know relaying these voices in a blog is not much, but if some mainstream media could not even report that disabled demonstrators were being 'kettled' by police, or draw attention to the private company making millions by taking people off their meagre benefits, this is the least we can do.

On Friday evening, a disabled demonstrator at our Harlesden anti-cuts protest led the chant of 'An injury to one is an injury to all'. It's an old saying and I did not give it a great deal of thought. But what John McArdle says has made me think. He may have been addressing the media, but we can't trust this to them. When we say our unions must fight for their members, we must add, that our movement must fight for all, and not least for our disabled sisters and brothers who are fighting back bravely against attack from those in power, and who deserve our support. It's not just a matter of helping others, after all. Any of us could find ourselves in the frontline.

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At 1:31 PM, Anonymous Sassy said...

Interesting blog. It would be great if you can provide more details about it. Thanks you

At 6:02 PM, Blogger joe90 kane said...

Excellent stuff RP.

Whilst its important that the anti-democratic destruction of the NHS of the ConDem Government is opposed, it's also important to oppose the ongoing destuction of the old British welfare state.

The American-style Workfare state is almost upon us. A state designed purely to look after the interests of private corporate profits rather than the welfare and well-being of the nation as a whole.

The NHS is at the sharp end of physical and mental health but once people are out of danger many thereafter rely on welfare benefits and care services which are now facing arbitrary spending cuts decided upon without regard to what effects they might have on the weakest and most vulnerable in the community.

Millions of sick, ill and disabled people are being abused and terrorised by the Department of Work and Pensions and its private medical contractor Atos. How medical professionals working for these two organisations can sleep easy given the state-sanctioned abuses they are perpetrating on the weakest in the communty, who are demonised daily in the corporate mass-media, is beyond me.

Whilst the Labour Party is against the ConDem Governments reforms of the NHS, it fully support it's destruction of the old British welfare state and replacing it with an American workfare state -

Iain Gray and Ed Miliband also met with staff at Atos Origin in Livingston. The company employs some 750 staff across the country, and tens of thousands world-wide. They provide IT support to the NHS, the Olympic Games, and the Premiership.
Ed MilibandSpeaking after the visit, Mr Miliband said:
"I am very pleased that Lawrence Fitzpatrick and Iain Gray invited me to see the great work that goes on in Atos Origin - everything from supporting the NHS to helping run the Olympic Games.

Iain Gray and Ed Milliband Visit Veterans Charity
Scottish Labour Party website

All the best.

I've put up a link to your excellent article on the Black Triangle's Facebook.

At 12:54 AM, Blogger joe90 kane said...

A brilliant spoof posted up on Black Triangle Facebook group -
Atos Healthcare

Half spoof but with true testimony from those being medically abused by Atos and the DWP -
Atos Healthscare

Atos Macht Frei

See Black Triangle Facebook group photos for more.

At 2:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In agreeing with the call at this URI (http://www.channel4.com/programmes/10-oclock-live/articles/freedom-of-information-act-and-private-companies) for a proper investigation into Atos Origin, I'd especially like to know how a large North American-based IT and Business Consultancy specialising in outsourcing (Atos Origin) morphed into "Atos Healthcare" when it moved into Britain in order to take on the task of reducing the numbers of benefits claimants. Something fishy? You just have to look at their logo!

At 1:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

dwpexamination.myfreeforum.org Forum Index -> Horror stories

Is the tribunals service being nobbled?

2 February 2011

Teams of DWP decision makers and Atos doctors are being surreptitiously shown into tribunals service (TS) back offices and being allowed to go through employment and support allowance appeal files, hunting for cases to either award benefits to or ask to have struck out. Benefits and Work asks: what has happened to the independence of the tribunals service?

Alarm bells first began to ring about the relationship between the DWP and the TS after it was revealed in the government’s response to the Harrington report that:

“Learning from a recent exercise whereby a joint team of Atos healthcare professionals, Decision Makers and Tribunals Service personnel reviewed cases awaiting Tribunal Hearing will also be cascaded and embedded nationally.”

Benefits and Work has since obtained a letter written by a senior TS manager which states that the TS and the DWP have been discussing ways to improve the reconsideration process for ESA and as a result:

“ . . . the Tribunals Service has supported Job Centre Plus in applying a secondary and more robust reconsideration process to live Employment and Support Allowance appeals currently being prepared for consideration by a tribunal. The objective of this exercise has been to prevent appellants needlessly attending tribunal hearings.”

In fact, the objective of the exercise has nothing to do with sparing claimants – a better decision making process would do that much more effectively. The reality is that the DWP are desperately trying to reduce the embarrassing 40% success rate for ESA appeals and the TS are equally anxious to reduce the overwhelming flood of ESA hearings with which they cannot cope. IB and ESA appeals have risen from 19,600 in the first quarter of 2009 to an astonishing 99,200 in the third quarter of 2010.

The TS letter goes on to say that:

“In practical terms, the exercise has taken the form of teams of decision makers deployed on Tribunals Service premises carrying out a systematic review of live appeals and revising their decisions wherever possible. The decision makers are facilitated in this exercise by the presence of an ATOS doctor whose knowledge and expertise is called upon to support and inform their decision making. In terms of the actual process being carried out, this is essentially a retrieval and provision of cases to the teams of decision makers by TS administrative staff. . .

“The decision was taken by the Tribunals Service to allow decision makers to look at TS files as these were felt to be the most up-to-date and accurate record. While evidence is copied routinely to DWP by TS, there was an acceptance that DWP’s appeal files were less accurate, which therefore made TS files preferable from a reconsideration point of view in that all available evidence could be captured and considered.”


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