At the Conservative Party conference in 2011, David Cameron told a lie in his speech. This is not a claim that I make lightly.
Cameron said that disability benefit claimants had previously been able to receive benefits with “no questions asked”.
Anyone who has ever claimed such benefits knows how absurd this statement is. I grew up in the 1980s when my father was disabled and I well remember the bureaucratic hoops that he had to jump through before he received essential benefits.
On one occasion, the instructions on a form that he had to complete included the line “If you are blind or cannot read this, ask somebody to read it to you.”
Things have got many, many times since the ConDem government embarked on a policy of throwing people off disability benefits as quickly as possible. Atos, a private company, has been hired to carry out the assessments, with the unofficial but obvious mandate of declaring people to be fit for work regardless of reality.
“Atos” has become a dirty word for many disabled people. Terminal cancer patients have been declared fit for work. So has at least one person who was sectioned under the Mental Health Act at the time. A few years ago, I interviewed a woman who had been assessed as partially sighted at every medical test since she was born. Atos, however, said she had “no difficulty seeing”.
No wonder that thousands have died shortly after being declared fit for work by the brutal bureaucracy that is Atos.
Tomorrow (Wednesday 19 February) peaceful demonstrations will be held across the UK to resist Atos. Those involved will call for an end to Atos’ role in assessments, insisting that they be carried out fairly and accountably by the National Health Service. Some may take nonviolent direct action. Most of us will simply make our voices heard outside Atos offices and in other public places.
Click here to find a list of planned demonstrations. Personally, I’m honoured to have been asked to speak at the demonstration in Highgate in north London.
If you are unable to attend a demonstration, please hold all involved in your prayers (if you’re a praying person). You can also write to your MP or tell a friend, colleague or neighbour about the issue.