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Disabled activists and UK Uncut have occupied the Department for Work and Pensions in a surprise secret action and have blockaded the doors.
This daring and disruptive protest is in reaction to the government’s welfare cuts and the £100 million a year contract given to the Paralympic sponsor Atos to push sick and disabled people off benefits.
This comes after it was announced this morning that Cecilia Burns, a cancer sufferer, who had her benefits cut by Atos and told her she was fit to work, has died1.1.
Disabled People Against the Cuts 1 and UK Uncut 2 began their protest at Atos’ headquarters in central London in an event dubbed ‘The Closing Atos Ceremony’ 3, but as all attention was on Atos, a small group of activists moved into position at DWP.
Hundreds of disabled people and their supporters from the first protest at Atos HQ are currently making their way by tube, bus and taxi to join the disabled activists at DWP. This spectacular day of action is the grand finale to a sustained week of protests against Atos 4 , timed to coincide with the first week of the Paralympic Games.
The two groups have targeted DWP to highlight that Atos is being paid to do the government’s dirty work. Activists inside the building are demanding an end to Work Capability Assessments, that Atos’ contract be terminated, and that the government reverse its cuts to welfare provision.
Atos are employed by the government to conduct Work Capability Assessments on sick and disable people. Their testing programme has come under fierce criticism. The British Medical Association 5, disabled people, and MPs 6 have all demanded the tests be halted immediately.
A recent episode of Dispatches 7 revealed Atos staff being pressured into unfairly declaring people ‘fit for work’ in order to fulfil targets set by the government. The government are aiming to cut nearly 20% from the welfare bill, despite the government’s own figures showing less than a 0.5% fraud rate and clear alternatives like clamping down on tax avoidance.8
Lydia Foxton, a spokesperson from DPAC said:
‘We have been targeting Atos, but they are just doing the government’s dirty work. Cutting welfare is devastating people’s lives and removing dignity, security and independence from thousands of sick and disabled people across the country. At the same time, David Cameron and his government are using the Paralympics to show themselves to be champions of disabled people, it’s a disgrace.’
Sam Kennard, a spokesperson from UK Uncut said:
‘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.’
Notes to editors:
Disabled people who have undergone Atos’ WCA are at the action and are available to talk to the media, please contact the UK Uncut media phone for details.
1 DPAC is a volunteer campaign network of and for disabled people campaigning for equality and human rights for all disabled people: dpac.uk.net/about
2 UK Uncut is a grassroots anti-cuts direct action network, well-known for targeting corporate tax avoidance: ukuncut.org