Only A Game? They just don’t give Atos

Protesters make their voice heard regarding Atos.
Protesters make their voice heard regarding Atos.

When Obi Wan Kenobi said to Luke Skywalker: “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy,” he’d obviously never heard of Atos.

Atos is a private company that the British Government has tasked with getting as many disabled people back into work as possible. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough to make want to slowly lower one of your eyeballs onto an upstanding Biro, then perhaps you should also know that it receives a tidy sum of £100m for doing so.

The company was given the contract to test disabled people by reassessing their eligibility for benefits payments.

This week marked the launch of the London Paralympic Games and unbelievably, Atos is one of the event’s main sponsors.

Atos sponsoring the Paralympic Games would be a bit like cigarette companies sending smokers dying from lung cancer ‘get well soon cards’ or pro-life campaigners helping pro-choice advocates raise money to pay for their operating costs.

Hundreds of disabled and able bodied protestors made their disgust with the organisation known when they gathered outside Atos headquarters in London on Friday before moving on to the offices of the Department for Work and Pensions in Westminster (the department responsible for the scheme).

Some of those who have experienced the disgusting wrath of Atos say the organisation has driven many disabled people into poverty or, in some cases, to suicide.

Micheline Mason, who has used a wheelchair all of her life, attended Friday’s protest because she said she was “just so angry and so horrified at the demonising of disabled people. We’re being used as an excuse for the government to take resources from the poorest, most vulnerable people.”

Atos, she said, was “an agent of a policy that has already driven people to suicide and even those it hasn’t, has added such hardship and fear and uncertainty and insecurity to the last people who need to be feeling that.”

Micheline’s words make complaining about the enthusiasm with which Red Coats hand out parking tickets in Derry pale into insignificance.

I have had to listen to someone very close to me recollect their experience of Atos. The questions that Atos asked this person were nothing short of insulting, demeaning and I know I am only a journalist but how does asking if someone can answer the telephone determine their level of disability?

I am speaking from experience when I say that not only do the decisions of Atos have a detrimental effect on the physical and mental health of a person but they also cause great anxiety within a family. I really don’t know how they sleep at night.

Earlier this week a woman from Strabane called Cecilia Burns died of breast cancer at the age of 51. In February of this year, Cecilia was told by Atos that she was well enough to work and had her support allowance reduced to a measly £30 a week. After a campaign, she had her benefits reinstated but that’s not the point – how can someone with a terminal illness be told they are fit to work? Shame on you Atos and shame on you David Cameron!

It’s easy to point the finger at Atos and point the finger we should, but it’s government policy that’s fuelling the Atos fire and the Conservative and Liberal Democrat led coalition has to realise just how disgusting its targeting of the sick and disabled is.

I sat and watched all of Team GB’s wheelchair basketball game against Germany on Thursday evening.

I am going to leave the fact that it was inspirational to one side for one moment, but it was also tremendously entertaining. The game finished 66 points a piece with Germany running out eventual winners after overtime was played.

If any Atos employees had been watching the game they perhaps would not have noticed how inspiring it was to see people with severe disabilities playing sport, they would probably been thinking, if the athletes were able to play wheelchair basketball then they’d have no problem working 40 hours a week as a lifeguard down their local swimming pool.

Dante Alighieri’s ‘Inferno’ only spoke of nine circles of hell; Atos would definitely be number ten!