Atos has been faced with more than 200 activists today as two action groups organised a protest outside the company’s UK headquarters, regarding its controversial work capability assessments (WCA).
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The French firm was awarded a contract by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for £100m a year to conduct the WCAs, which determine whether those on disability benefit were capable of work. The outsourcer is also one of the major sponsors of the London 2012 Paralympic Games
Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and UK Uncut claim the assessments have forced people back into work that were not in a fit state to do so and, in some cases, driven them to suicide. As a result, it has organised a number of protests in an attempt to highlight Atos as an unsuitable sponsor of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
“Atos’ sponsorship of the games is beyond a joke,” said Paddy Murphy, a spokeman for DPAC. “It receives hundreds of millions of pounds from the government while many disabled people are being forced to live in abject poverty because of its decisions. This is just another opportunity for it to ‘cash-in’.”
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Atos has claimed its role with the DWP is purely to recruit the medical staff that carry out the assessments and reviews of each case and that the final ruling on whether an individual is entitled to benefits is the responsibility of the DWP and parliament.
A spokeswoman told Computer Weekly that both its government contract and Paralympic partnership dated back to the early 1990s and 2002 respectively, with the latter being “more than sponsorship” as it is responsible for providing IT for the Games.
"We fully respect people's right to a peaceful protest and we understand that this is a highly emotive issue,” she added. “We do not make decisions on people's benefit entitlement or on welfare policy but we will continue to make sure that the service we provide is as highly professional and compassionate as it can be.”
Today’s protest began at lunchtime in front of Atos’ headquarters on Triton Square, near Warren Street tube station, London. However, the protestors later moved to Whitehall, staging their demonstration outside the DWP offices in Caxton House on Tothill Street.
A spokesman for UK Uncut told Computer Weekly at least 12 people had managed to get inside the building, with around 200 protestors outside, held back by a police blockade.