Over 400 protesters from Disabled People Against the Cuts and U.K. Uncut protested on Friday outside Paralympic sponsor Atos' headquarters and the Department for Work and Pensions in London.
The company, Atos, is a sponsor of the Paralympic Games and runs "fit for work" assessment tests on behalf of the U.K. government, for people on disability allowances. Protesters say that these tests are both "damaging and distressing" and have led to suicides.
According to U.K. Uncut, a break-away group, including two wheelchair users, blocked the doors of the office in a "surprise secret action".
Other protesters who managed to enter the Department of Work and Pensions have since been removed, and according to Metropolitan police, one person was arrested for breaching the peace.
The joint action comes after Cecilia Burns, a cancer sufferer who had her benefits cut by government officials who said she was fit to work, died on Friday.
Friday's action was the end of a sustained week of creative direct action against Atos by the two direct action groups and was timed to coincide with the first week of the Paralympic Games in London.
As can be seen in the recording of the livestream video above, police were very heavy-handed with the disabled activists and one handicapped woman had her wheelchair damaged by police officers. Many were injured and had to go to hospital for treatment, after the brutal treatment by Metropolitan police officers. In the video, people can be seen being pushed from their wheelchairs by the police. One person was arrested.
The company, Atos, was awarded a £100 million a year contract by the Department for Work and Pensions to conduct work capability assessments on sick and disable people. This testing program has met with fierce criticism.
The Medical Protection Society and the British Medical Association have both demanded that the tests be halted immediately. It is believed that Atos staff are being pressured into unfairly declaring people "fit for work" so that they can fulfill targets set by the U.K. government, which is aiming to cut around 20% from the welfare bill in the country.
A spokesperson from Disabled People Against the Cuts, Lydia Foxton 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."
According to Andrew Cox, spokesperson for U.K. Cut, "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."
Video update on the subject: