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Meeting on Sept 10th About Disabled People and Cuts Following Week of ATOS Protests

Banner at the Closing ATOS Ceremony in London

Banner at the Closing ATOS Ceremony in London

This week, during the Paralympics, Disabled People Against the Cuts and UK Uncut teamed up for a week of action, dubbed the ATOS games. The occasion was chosen because ATOS are one of the main sponsors of the Paralympics, an association which led the TeamGB Paralympians to hide their ATOS branded lanyards during the opening ceremony earlier this week.

Tuesday saw protests take place outside ATOS assessment centres around the UK, and today there was a big protest outside their HQ in London, which then moved to occupy the DWP offices in Westminster. All of this is in protest at the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) which is supposed to test people who are claiming disability benefits to see if they are fit for work, but is being used to push people off disability benefits, with targets to find 89% of people fit for work.
This has led to many deaths, with 32 people a week dying after being found fit for work, and a host of tragic stories such as the Birmingham dad who died from his heart condition just three weeks after ATOS told him he was fit for work, or the cancer patient who died earlier this week just a few days after finding out her appeal was succesful.
The British Medical Association has condemned the WCA as being unfit for purpose, and called for the government to radically overhaul the process so that it takes into account medical advice from doctors.

ATOS Protest in Birmingham

ATOS Protest in Birmingham

This week’s protests have attracted a large amount of media attention, and brought the issue to a wider audience. Join us on Monday 10th September, at 6:30pm at the Unison Offices for a meeting about cuts and disabled people, with Linda Burnip from DPAC speaking followed by a discussion.

The Unison offices are wheelchair accessible with accessible toilets. If you have any accessibility needs please contact us by email at BirminghamAgainstTheCuts@Gmail.com and we will do our best to ensure that you can fully access our meeting.

The Unison Offices are on the 19th Floor, McClaren Tower, Priory Queensway, B4 7LR. The nearest train station is Moor Street which is around 200m away, with New Street about half a mile from the offices. Many buses stop along Moor Street Queensway, near the McClaren Tower.

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Disabled People Against Cuts Protest ATOS – August 28th

Join The Atos Games!
On your marks, get set…
for a week of Paralympic fun and games against Atos!

From Monday 27th to Friday 31st of August, join Disabled People Against Cuts for The Atos Games – five days of action against a company that’s sponsoring the Paralympics but wrecking disabled people’s lives.

We are calling on disabled people, disabled activists, families, colleagues, friends and supporters to come together and fight back against Atos’s attacks. Atos represents as dangerous an opponent as any government, law or barrier the disability movement has faced in its long history. It’s not just welfare, but our very identity and our place within society that is under attack.

And we are asking the whole of the anti-cuts movement to join us in our opposition to the company most responsible for driving through the government’s brutal cuts agenda. Let’s make it Games over for Atos!

Read More from DPAC about these events, ATOS and the Paralympics

Tuesday 28th, 1pm, by 5-ways in Birmingham – please note that 5-ways train station is not wheelchair accessible, and the nearest train stations are New Street, Moor Street or Snow Hill. Full details will be posted later. If you are on facebook, the best thing to do would be to join the facebook event where DPAC will publish updates.

There are also actions taking place on others days in the week, including ones for people who are unable to attend the demos which are happening nationally on Tuesday 28th, or in London on Friday 31st – see the DPAC website for more details.

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ATOS, Disabled People and the 2012 London Olympics


The olympic torch comes through Birmingham tomorrow (30th June), and today we have a guest post by Linda from Disabled People Against Cuts:

One might be forgiven for wondering just why and how ATOS ( ‘Licensed to Kill Disabled People’ by the Condems) and the corporate butchers of Bhopal Dow are two of the most prominent Olympic sponsors. How can such odious corporations be given worldwide publicity and credibility?

In exchange for lucrative payments from the government ATOS happily continue to hound and harass disabled people into even further poverty and to drive many to suicide.

Over 1 million disabled people, many too ill to work face losing their benefits or have already lost them. If you become ill or disabled in the future this could happen to you, even if you’ve worked and paid National Insurance contributions most of your life.

People with life-threatening illnesses, some with terminal cancer, and mental health conditions live in fear of their forthcoming ATOS assessments acknowledged as totally flawed by CAB, McMillan Cancer charity and a host of others. The tick-box computer assessment system takes no account of real life problems people face or the complexity of many long-term illnesses and disabilities. Yet within minutes this process which violates the fundamental medical principle of ‘first do no harm’ can strip disabled people of essential benefits and rob them of their lives.

Real-life horror stories of assessments and outcomes now abound and can be read in papers on an almost daily basis yet still the government refuse to halt or change these vicious tests. Some of the reports are little short of torture. A woman forced to try to walk to prove she couldn’t who fell onto the ground and had to be helped up again crying by her mother. Another woman forced to try to walk down a long corridor also to prove she couldn’t walk. People waiting for major heart surgery or those who have had numerous heart attacks killed by the stress of the assessments and being told they are fit to work.

A Grimsby Fisherman suffering from horrendous blood clots and open ulcers and struggles to walk who has been told by specialists at two hospitals he would be risking his life if he went back to work lost his disability benefits.
A more recent case is that of a Dundee man found fit to work who is deaf, blind and tube-fed and who needs 24 hour care. How could anyone with such profound impairments be found fit to work?

Yet this is how ATOS treats disabled people.

The BMA Local Medical Committee Conference recently voted unanimously for an end to these notorious Work Capability Assessments as Scottish GPs did earlier this year. Dr Stephen Carty has likened the UK Government’s welfare reform crackdown on disabled people to the “barbarism” of the Nazis.

The cost of these sometimes murderous assessments to the taxpayer are enormous as appeals rocket costing a predicted £50 million in tribunal costs in 2012 alone. The backlog of cases has reached epidemic proportions with tribunals sitting even on Sundays to try to reduce the 10 month backlog of cases. Yet even if a claimant wins their appeal against their assessment, and most do, the treadmill experience of being retested can start again immediately for no justifiable reasons.

As the blood of disabled people continues to drip steadily from the hands of our Olympic sponsors they should hang their heads in shame at the terror they are causing to those who deserve support not victimisation from our welfare state.

If you would like to join us in expressing your disgust at ATOS and its sponsorship of our Olympics then please email their CEO at Thiery Breton at thierry.breton@atos.net (http://www.ceoemail.com/se.php?id=10159)

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Protest Against Cuts to Disabled Peoples’ Benefits and Services, and the Destruction of the NHS

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) at J30

Leamington Spa, Friday 20th January, 1pm, at CHRIS WHITE, MP’s office, 43a CLEMENS STREET, OLD TOWN, CV31 2DP, not far from railway station.

We usually try to keep this website devoted to anti-cuts activities that are happening in Birmingham, but have decided to make an exception for this, in solidarity with campaigners in Leamington Spa, who have travelled to Birmingham for demonstrations over the past year.

This week we have seen some major victories for disability campaigners, locally with Charles House being saved from closure, and nationally with key defeats for the ConDem coalition over welfare reform.
These show that we can win on these issues.

For more information about the demonstration, which has been organised by DPAC, please see their website.

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Photos and report from todays Action Against ATOS

15 people joined a demonstration in Birmingham today as a part of a national day of action against ATOS, called by Benefit Claimants Fight Back, and supported by a host of disability and welfare campaign and support groups.
In Birmingham, DPAC, Birmingham Against the Cuts, Right to Work and Enable joined together for a lunchtime demonstration outside the building that ATOS use for the Work Capability Assessments (WCAs).
ATOS rent space on the first floor of Five Ways House to carry out WCAs in Birmingham. The first floor is not wheelchair accessible, so whenever someone who can’t use stairs comes to be assessed as to whether they are fit for work, they have to use extra space on the ground floor.
As part of today’s demonstration, activists got into body bags and lay in front of the building, to illustrate the claims that 5 people have committed suicide as a result of the reassessment process that ATOS handle. At our public meeting earlier this month, Sam spoke about the attacks being carried out on disabled people:

they are decimating everything. It’s not about whether I win or lose, it’s about whether I live or die

The ATOS assessments amount to a computer ticklist, and they ignore GPs advice in favour of what the computer says. These assessments are designed to strip benefits away from people.
40% of appeals at which the claimant represents themselves are succesful – this figure rises to 70% when someone is represented.
In addition to the £100m/year payments we make to ATOS, the appeals process costs an estimated £30m-£40m extra.

During the time of the appeal process, claimants do not get benefits, and these appeals have been known to last up to 18months.

The way in which disabled people are treated is disgraceful, and ATOS recently threatened to sue 3 websites which were critical of them, including Carer Watch which provides a vital support network and community for disabled people and carers. This threat resulted in all 3 websites being pulled by their ISPs as a precautionary measure. This is a standard thing for ISPs to do in the UK due to our libel laws and the expense of fighting cases.

Also, ATOS IT were recently handed the contract for the Paralympics, and the ATOS founder and former chair is now on the board of the Paralympic committee. This is a disgraceful insult to British disabled people who suffer so badly at the hands of this company.

You can still take part in today’s online action, or get involved with the fight against the Welfare Reform Bill. There will be future actions in Birmingham as part of national events against ATOS.

To see what else has happened around the UK, the Benefit Claimants Fight Back website is probably the best place to go.

DPAC have collected links from some of the demos here and here.
Additionally, 2 activists were arrested in Nottingham. One of the arrestees is a wheelchair user, and the police do not have a wheelchair accessible van, so they had to charge and bail him on the spot. The other activist was released later on that evening. Hopefully the charges will be dropped quickly.


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Hands off Brum Services public meeting

Panel of speakers: Brian, Simon, Linda, Graeme and Paul

SWAN, DPAC, Unison, Right to Work and Birmingham Against the Cuts held a joint public meeting this evening, examining the cuts to social & care services being brought in by the local ConDem coalition.

The meeting was chaired by Caroline Johnson from Birmingham Against the Cuts and Unison.

The first speaker was Graeme Horne from Unison, who told us about the level of cuts to social care services in Birmingham.

Adult care services are facing 16%-17% budget cuts this year, with cuts over 3 years totalling 40% of the budget – and that doesn’t take into account inflation, which could easily see real terms budgets shrinking by 5% year on year.

The outcome of these cuts – part of the council budget cuts approved this year by the ConDem coalition in Birmingham – is that they will only support those judged to have “critical” needs. Explaining the system, Graeme told us that there are 4 levels that needs can be assessed at – Critical; Substantial; Moderate and Low. Previously, those judged to have substantial needs would have been supported, but now they will only support the critical needs of those judged to be in the critical category (so someone with critical needs will not get support with needs considered to be moderate).
To illustrate what the difference is in the categories, Graeme told us that one of the criteria is that a need is “critical” if the person is at risk of, or has experienced, serious abuse or neglect, whilst a “substantial” need is someone at risk of or has experienced abuse or neglect. So the abuse must be “serious” for someone to get support.

These cuts will remove support from 4,500 adults around Birmingham – 30% of all those currently supported by the council.

Next to speak was Simon Cardy from Social Work Action Network (SWAN). He works in childrens care, and talked about the issues of backdoor privatisation and ideology in the upcoming struggle to defend care and support services.

Social enterprises and private organisations have difficulty in raising cash when costs rise suddenly. This is especially true when they are very small units. Costs can rise suddenly when a single person being supported suddenly needs a lot more support, for instance due to a deterioration in their health. Local Authorities are much better placed to cope with this as they can re-allocate funds from budgets

He talked about a pilot for a Social Work Practice (essentially a small grouping of social workers in a social enterprise – think on the scale/model of solicitors practices) in Sandwell, and how it failed because social workers refused to volunteer for the trial, knowing that it was a path to privatisation, and then collapsed when Ofsted said that the council needed to consult the children affected.
He attacked the ideology of both the current coalition and the previous Labour government for introducing market based ideas into social work and called for an end to quasi-business practices and models being used for public services.

Linda Burnip from Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) also talked about the 4,500 people facing the loss of their support services.

Having substantial needs means that you need help to get up, to get out of the house and to go anywhere. The biggest worry is that people will become unable to leave their house. I know people who would like to have attended the meeting tonight, but simply don’t have enough hours of support allocated to them to allow them to do it.

She then told us of a woman in Kensington and Chelsea, who is 62 and has worked all her life. She had a stroke, and now has to go to the toilet every 2-3 hours. Kensington and Chelsea council have decided to withdraw nighttime care, and instead give her incontinence pads. She is not incontinent, but simply needs help to get up out of bed and get to the toilet in order to use it. The supreme court decided that it is acceptable for someone to be put into bed at 8:30pm and left there until 8:30am the next day. There is rightly concern that other councils will see this ruling and also remove nighttime care.
In the discussion after the meeting there was a call to take this to the European Courts, or even to the UN and to contact NGOs like Amnesty International to raise awareness of the effect that cuts to care and support services are having, and what we can do about it.

Linda mentioned some alternatives, including ending tax avoidance and evasion, and talked about upcoming events that disabled people could get involved in. There is a protest tomorrow in Kensington and Chelsea about the decision to remove care. They are intending to setup a Birmingham DPAC group which will be active in the city. At the Lib Dem conference in September, they are going to target Maria Miller, the “so-called minister for disabled people”. So there is action coming up that around the UK to defend people who need these services.

Building on the message of what the alternatives to cuts are, Brian from Birmingham Against the Cuts spoke about the cuts, the crisis and the alternatives

Nobody should be fooled that this is anything other than a political move. Cameron, Clegg and Osborne want to achieve a Thatcherite dream – low tax, small state and everyone for themselves

He said that the government were very good at talking up the line that there is no alternative, but the reality is there are plenty of alternatives. You can read more about the alternatives to the cuts on False Economy, or our series on alternatives.
Brian said that the government is relying on there being too many cuts for us to fight them all, but that we need to fight all of them and we can do it.

Birmingham Against the Cuts is an umbrella organisation working in this city you can get involved with. You are already reading the website, you could join our monthly e-mail newsletter list, like our facebook page and/or follow us on twitter to keep up with what we are doing, you can see events that you can come to on our upcoming events page, or you could get more involved by attending one of our planning meetings.

The final speaker on the panel was Paul from Right to Work.

It is quite clear that if the truth is exposed then people start to understand and people become compassionate

Paul outlined a strategy for fighting the cuts, saying it needed now to compose of three parts: Strikes, Direct Action and Occupations, and that we also need to offer an alternative. On strikes he said 30th June was incredibly important and that in the Autumn there would be more strikes. Direct Action makes headlines and exposes what is going on, we need more of it. With occupations he said that at Bombardier meeting there was talk of occupying the factory if the government did not reverse its decision, and that he felt more of this would be needed.

He also mentioned the Liberal Democrat conference demo on 18th September in Birmingham, and the Tory conference demo on 2nd October in Manchester.

Abu speaking from the floor

There followed a discussion from the floor, with many people speaking, which was great after the unexpectedly short time available at our last public meeting. The DWP protest on Monday was mentioned, as were Stop the War activities. Two speakers (Abu Alamgir and a gentleman whose name I didn’t catch) raised the question of what electoral parties will be options for us to vote for as Labour do not seem to be opposing cuts fully – the prospect of anti-cuts candidates standing at the next election was raised.
Bob Findlay-Williams spoke about the question of accepting the ideological framework that these cuts are framed in, that he wants to smash the concept of community care because it is a concept built on capitalist ideology. Not everone needs care, they might need support or equipment but the mainstream wraps that up in the word care which reinforces ideas of dependency.
Sam Brackenbury called for direct action, referring to the Iraq War marches of 2003, he asked whether it might have succeeded if the people decided they weren’t going to leave. Marching has it’s place, but once you’ve gone from A to B you’ve got to think about what’s next. He said that he is honestly worried about cuts to support services and benefits and how it might affect him.
Matt Raine said that the conference demonstrations provide a good place to build numbers to take direct action in the future. There was talk of the Tory conference planning for up to 100,000 people, whilst the aim for the Liberal Democrat conference should be 20,000-30,000 people.

Speakers from the floor

There was also more talk of the need to push our alternatives, and to be sharper at doing it. One alternative that was mentioned was the cost of war – Trident costs £38.5million every week, whilst Afghanistan costs £4.5bn and hundreds of millions are being spent on Libya.

The speakers rounded off the meeting with comments on what had been said from the floor, and the announcement of a pamphlet being produced on the issue of the removal of care and support services from 4,500 adults in Birmingham and what we can and are doing about it.

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Lobby of Council on care & support service cuts

A lobby at the council house was held yesterday, called jointly by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), Social Work Action Network (SWAN), UNISON Birmingham Council Branch, Right to Work and Birmingham Against the Cuts.

The five groups have come together this month to campaign on cuts to social and care services that the ConDem council are seeking to bring in, as part of the £212m council cuts.

The council plans to cut back services to disabled people in particular, with care only being available to those adults judged to have “critical” needs.  This means that adults with only “substantial” needs will no longer have access to care services.  Originally the council said that this would affect 11,000 people, but have more recently said that it will only be 4,500 people who are affected – we, like Graeme Horn from UNISON, are inclined to believe the original figure as the council are likely to have tried to massage the numbers down following an outcry from the people of Birmingham about these horrendous cuts.

Following the announcement of the cuts, a legal case was started which resulted in a judicial review in May that the cuts were unlawful, as the council had not done an equality impact assessment or consulted properly over the cuts.  This review has forced the council to start a new consultation, which begins shortly.  DPAC and SWAN decided to use July to campaign on this because the UN is currently monitoring the convention on the rights of disabled people – so at the same time the government is monitoring the report from the UN, they are cutting services to disabled people.  They then contacted UNISON, Right to Work and Birmingham Against the Cuts to build a united campaign which can be effective in its resistance to these cuts.

Graeme Horn from UNISON Birmingham said:

We need to make sure that during the consultation as many people as possible examine what the council are doing and speak up in defence of vulnerable and disabled people

Rich Moth from SWAN added that

We have chosen to start the campaign now because of the court victory under the Disability Discrimination Act concerning the £33m cuts to care and support services.  What we want to do coming out of that judgement is to build a campaign because Birmingham City Council will come back with proposals that we expect to be more or less the same and we need to build a campaign to fight these discriminatory cuts which kind of show who is really going to suffer – not the bankers who caused the crisis but disabled and vulnerable people.

Godfrey Webster from Birmingham Against The Cuts spoke about how it is important to make sure that the narrative of the neccesity of cuts is defeated

The problem is that the majority of people think the cuts are inevitable and there is no alternative.  We need to get the message out that there is an alternative

False Economy is a good website to start with to explore the alternatives to cuts, and the reasons why they will not cure the deficit problem.

Matt Raine from Right to Work chose to highlight one particular cut

Mobility allowance is being stripped from old people.  This will mean that they are effectively prisoners in their care homes

He talked about the importance of linking up this struggle with the wider struggle against cuts, mentioning the Lib Dem conference in Birmingham in September, and the Tory conference in Manchester in October.

Sam Brackenburg from DPAC spoke about how disabled people need to be active in this struggle.  He said that he was fighting so that he could have the support that he needed to have an independent life, to not be dependent on other people or have to accept the scraps that fall from the table.  Calling for all disabled people to be proactive in this struggle and to join DPAC in taking action to defend their benefits he said

Don’t cause a fuss, stop a bus

referring to this action that DPAC took to highlight issues of access and the cutting of mobility allowance, as well as broader cuts to benefits (Sam is one of the activists handcuffed to the back of the bus)

There will be more events from this campaign this month, as well as ongoing work as we seek to prevent the council from cutting vital services.  To steal SWAN’s slogan we want the budget to be based on peoples needs, not private greed.

On Thursday (7th July) Birmingham Trades Council has its monthly meeting, at 7:30pm in the Council House.  Bob Findlay-Williams from DPAC will be speaking.

On the 20th July there will be a public meeting at Transport House on Broad Street (TGWU/UNITE building) with speakers from the groups and services affected by these cuts.  Join the Facebook Event and invite your friends.

Come along to these events and help the campaign to ensure that the consultation that the council are being forced to undertake is not a sham, and that vital services for vulnerable and disabled people are protected.

All photos (c) Geoff Dexter Sherborne Publications – see more photos in his Flickr stream

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