Disabled hold vigil with coffin at Paralympic's sponsor Atos office
Disabled activists from DPAC hold a vigil to remember those who have died as a result of the Work Capability Assessments carried out by Paralympic Sponsor Atos. The group delivers a coffin to the ATOS office ahead of the Paralympics opening ceremony.
It was raining as the activists met in the two coffee shops on Triton Square and began to get ready for their vigil, but soon they were outside in the rain waiting for event to begin. Fortunately they were able to use an area under cover adjoining the Atos offices, where they set up a PA system, an electronic organ, a lectern and an altar.
A short introduction which explained the problems with the Work Capability Assessment delivered by Atos, "a relentless health and disability assessment regime which has been used to slash vital benefits from hundred of thousands of sick and disabled people" and where assessors are told they have to reach strict targets in failing the great majority of claimants, finding ways to fill in the relevant boxes on the forms and often deliberately misinterpreting the claimants responses and misrepresenting their medical condition.
A number of stories where then read out of people who had committed suicide as a result of receiving incorrect assessments by Atos, including only those cases where there was evidence of some kind that the assessment had been a part of the direct cause of their deaths, or had been stated by their families as having been so.
A coffin was then brought by four disabled people in wheelchairs or mobility scooters to where the ceremony was taking place, and people came forward to lay flowers on it. It was then carried the few yards and put down directly in front of the Atos office entrance, and more flower petals were then thrown over it.
The event was a solemn and moving reminder of the scandal of the work capability assessments and the terrible effect they are having on the disabled. Many are losing the allowances that enable them to travel to work, others housing benefits, and are being told they are fit to work when patently they are unable to do so. One of the protesters had a placard with a list of some of the cases, "a suicidal woman - a man with FATAL heart condition - rape survivor of Rwandan genocide - man with kidney cancer - woman with sever MS". It is a list that could be extended almost indefinitely - and now includes a man in a coma.
One of the activists came with a newspaper with a headline about Atos being "engulfed by disability test row" and it does seem at last that many people are seeing through the government's attempt to stigmatize the disabled as benefit scroungers and realise the very real hardship the removal of benefits is causing. It really is a cruel paradox that at a time when the nation is celebrating the great achievements of disabled people in the sporting world, our government is trying to reverse the moves toward equality of treatment of disabled people, and that the company that is trying to take the credit for sponsoring the Paralympics is profiting from contracts to dishonestly deny benefits to the disabled who need them.