Atos fails the test

On 22 July the Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Freud announced that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had decided to change its approach to contracting for the work capability assessment (WCA) in order to ‘ensure that it is as responsive to the needs of claimants as possible’. He stated that the quality of written reports which Atos produces following assessments and which are then used as part of the decision-making process on benefit entitlement had fallen in quality, and that this was ‘contractually unacceptable’.

The mainstream press welcomed this announcement as a sign that the government was planning to improve the system for claimants. Of the isolated voices which pointed out the futility of the proposal to bring in ‘new providers to implement a flawed test’, such as The Guardian’s Sue Marsh (23 July), opposition was limited to the advice that ‘only allowing healthcare professionals the time and space to do the job properly, with suitable descriptors, will improve the accuracy of assessments’. This appeal to the government – on the basis that it is unaware of the consequences of its policies – ignores its determination to deny benefits to those who need them most, regardless of whether they are ‘fit for work’ or not. The WCA serves this purpose and so it will remain in place, if not in name then in structure.

The misery which has been imposed on sick and disabled people subject to repeated WCA assessments, rulings and appeals (on average 40% of claimants found ‘fit for work’ win their appeals) is no accident. The ruling class is testing the ground to see how far it can go in cutting benefits before coming up against determined opposition. The refusal of the trade unions to take action in solidarity with claimants, which would force them into conflict with the government and the Labour Party, further isolates sick and disabled people, making them a target for yet more cuts and encouraging the ruling class to expand its attack on benefits to wider sections of the population.

It was the Labour government which introduced Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) as a replacement for incapacity benefit and hired Atos, a multinational IT company, on a five-year contract worth £500m, to carry out WCAs in order to force claimants on to ESA. The ConDem Coalition has extended Atos’s contract and awarded it three further five-year contracts worth £400m to carry out assessments for the new Personal Independence Payment (PIPs) which is replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA). That Atos has sponsored both the 2012 Paralympic Games in London and the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow demonstrates the contempt both the British government and Scottish Parliament have for the rights and dignity of the disabled people these games claim to champion.

FRFI supporters in Glasgow have been working with the Glasgow Against Atos campaign (GAA) against the WCA and Atos. The campaign demands the scrapping of WCA and that Atos is dropped as sponsors of the Commonwealth Games.

Recent GAA actions have included an anniversary demonstration on 28 June and an occupation of the 2014 Commonwealth Games velodrome, alongside supporters of the Citizens United and the Black Triangle disability rights campaign. This action (pictured above) received national media coverage and led to a suspension of tours of the multimillion pound cycling track, which had been built in one of Glasgow’s most deprived neighbourhoods.

Dominic O’Hara

Building an open and democratic campaign against Atos

Glasgow Against Atos (GAA) was set up in 2012 by a diverse range of individuals and organisations. FRFI supporters were active from the start and were among those who set down the group’s founding principles, which stipulated that the campaign should be open and democratic, that all participating groups should be able to bring their banners and literature to events, and that everyone could have their say on the progress of the campaign. As we know from years of campaigning, it is only through this inclusiveness and lack of censorship that strong, unified movements can be built.

Although initially everyone was in agreement about this method of organising, some individuals grew increasingly hostile towards the involvement of political groups and sought to keep its message within very narrow boundaries. As FRFI supporters have been among the most vocal both in calling for an open campaign and in linking the fight against Atos to other attacks on the working class, it was our comrades who have come in for the most vitriolic criticism. We have responded to these attacks by issuing two statements (see Glasgow: For action and democracy in the fight against ATOS

and and are continuing to work in GAA alongside Citizens United and Black Triangle campaign supporters, in solidarity with all those under attack from the ConDem British government and its apologists in the Scottish parliament and local government.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 234 August/September 2013


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