The climactic protest against Atos' sponsorship of the Paralympics shines a harsh light on a corporate sponsor cashing in on benefit cuts for the sick and disabled
Opposition to Atos’ sponsorship of the Paralympics reached a climax on Friday outside their HQ in London. Hundreds of protesters from across the country gathered outside the building for the creative demonstration called by UK Uncut and Disabled People Against the Cuts, with support from Coalition of Resistance and the Counter-Olympics Network.
Later in the day, a breakaway group staged a surprise direct action against the Department of Work and Pensions. The protesters, two of whom were in wheelchair users, blocked the office doors, resulting in one arrest for ‘breach of the peace’.
Atos is a French multinational corporation specialising in information technology and operating on 48 countries worldwide. It has no special expertise in dealing with the needs of disabled people, and also operates in retail, manufacturing and finance. Apart from the killing made from its Olympic sponsorship, Atos is also being paid £100 million per year by the Coalition government to re-assess benefit claims, facilitating the cuts by forcing the sick and disabled back to work. All this for a benefits system with a 0.3% fraud rate.
Over 1000 people in Britain have already died after losing benefit payments and being deemed ‘fit to work’ by Atos. Suicides are also rising sharply. The most recent Atos casualty, Celia Burns, was a cancer sufferer appealing her fit to work status. She died just a few days after a lengthy appeal saw her benefits reinstated.
Meanwhile, workers who’ve given a lifetime of service are forced to work longer for ever-shrinking pensions. Moreover growing numbers of the young unemployed who are fit for work struggle to make ends meet on unemployment benefits or are forced to work for free. Such is the reality of austerity which, while strangling the economy, does bring the paradoxes and interconnected injustices of the capitalist system into sharp relief.
As with the cuts to other public services, the government and the mainstream media have worked hard to isolate the DLA debate from its political context: bailouts, tax-dodging corporations and a still deregulated economy. Not to mention a complete failure to address any of the root causes of the deficit and recession, with sub-prime mortgages and pay-day loan companies now settling in the UK.
The real scroungers
The Minister for Work and Pensions himself, Chris Grayling, was implicated in the MP expenses scandal to the tune of £10,000. Unabashed, he maintains his tough love propaganda, which the government applies only to the most vulnerable and least accountable in society.
To quote the very public shaming of Grayling on Newsnight this week by comedian Francesca Martinez: “Where’s the tough love for the banks, where’s the tough love for the corporations who still pay little or no tax, and where’s the tough love for our own government? Half of our MPs were implicated in the expenses scandal. I think we need to ask ourselves who the scroungers in society really are.”
Marienna is a socialist writer and campaigner who studied Politics & International Development at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. She is a member of Counterfire and a leading organiser of the Student Assembly Against Austerity. She currently works as a filmmaker for the Islam Channel.
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