The Independent London Newspaper
24th March 2017

FORUM: 'Don't play games with lives - disabled people won't be silenced during the Olympics'

    Campaigners demonstrate outside Atos HQ

    Campaigners demonstrate outside Atos HQ

    Published: 21 June, 2012

    THE Olympic torch comes to Camden on July 26 July.

    With Paralympic athletes on TV, you would think the Olympics are disability-friendly.

    But we at WinVisible believe that this is not the case. People see the Olympics gobbling up money better spent on everyone’s needs, and security being used to erode our rights and instal missiles on people’s roofs.

    WinVisible, the Kentish Town-based campaign group fighting for the rights of people with visible and invisible disabilities, took part in a demonstration at the Olympic Park against various corporate sponsors who we feel have not had good track records in dealing with people with disabilities.

    When we arrived we found out the land had been privatised so protests without permission were banned.

    But people with disabilities will not be silenced.

    One company sponsoring the Paralympic Games is Atos, a multi-national, operating timing systems for the Olympics. It has a £100million a year contract to carry out disability benefit tests on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions.

    These disability tests mean sick, disabled and terminally-ill people, such as women with cancer, have had to undergo the “work capability assessment” – and thousands are appealing after being found fit for work.  Many appeals are successful but they take months and not everyone survives long enough to get justice.

    In less than a year more than 1,000 people told to get ready for work have died. [Reference Nick Sommerlad of the Mirror’s investigations team http://blogs.mirror.co.uk/investigations/2012/04/32-die-a-week-after-failing-in.html]. Some committed suicide. Many more died during the three-month assessment before money for disability costs, such as heating, arrived.

    Distraught and angry claimants and bereaved relatives, have protested against the “work capability assessments,” joined by members of the PCS union from Euston Tower.

    At the Crossroads Women’s Centre, groups use self-help to uphold various rights.

    WinVisible (women with visible and invisible disabilities) is working with Single Mothers’ Self-Defence, Black Women’s Rape Action Project and others to bring together disabled women in different situations – single mums, pensioners, immigrants and asylum-seekers, young women wanting to live independently. Some of us have escaped war, rape and other torture, and now face racism in the benefits system and dismissal of our health problems.

    We provide rights information so everyone knows what they are entitled to, support to fight appeals, backing to get the best out of statutory and voluntary services, and we campaign against injustice.

    We oppose the phasing out of Income Support – the only benefit which recognises mothers and other carers. Many single mothers care for a disabled child or an older relative or have health problems themselves.

    One mother, in severe pain, was assumed to be fit for work because she is managing to care for her children.

    She is asking for a reconsideration by the DWP, which can shortcut having to appeal.

    People assume the disability test exam is compulsory. But we have got exemptions by presenting medical evidence directly to the DWP. This avoids the worry of the exam and the likelihood of being denied and having to appeal. By supporting each other and getting backing from medical professionals and others, we can win.

    In 2011 WinVisible organised a joint open letter to the British Medical Journal Group and Royal College of Nursing, calling on them to end their business relationship recruiting for Atos – over 100 organisations, doctors and nurses signed. We were thrilled when the BMA conference of GPs voted in May that the Work Capability Assessment should end. We are pressing for this to become wider BMA policy.

    • Claire Glasman is a spokeswoman for WinVisible.