Tag Archives: Newtown

Atos ‘death threats’ claim – ‘outrageous’ insult to those its regime has killed

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KrychGaA78&feature=share

“If this isn’t intimidation, I don’t know what is – it’s a very clear message to anyone: How dare you protest against us and, if you do, we’ll find you fit for work!” Anti-Atos protester Joanne Jemmett with the sign left by Atos workers outside the assessment centre in Weston-Super-Mare on Wednesday (“Fit enough to protest – fit enough to work!”) at the start of this short film documenting the demonstration there.

Watching the stories stack up in the wake of the national day of protest against Atos last Wednesday has been very interesting.

The immediate response was that Atos has approached the government, seeking an early end to its contract. This deal, under which Atos administers the hated Work Capability Assessments to people on incapacity or disability benefits, would have been worth more than £1 billion to the company over a 10-year period.

Allegedly, company employees have been receiving death threats, both during and after the protests. We’ll come back to those shortly.

The Conservative-led Coalition took this development in the way we have come to expect – spitefully. A DWP spokesperson said that the company’s service had declined to an unacceptable level, and that the government was already seeking tenders from other firms for the contract.

This is what happens when bullies squabble.

Atos is the big bully that has just had a shock because the other kids in the playground stood up to it and made it clear they weren’t going to stand for its nonsense any more. We’re told that all bullies are cowards and it appears to be true in this case – Atos went running to the bigger bully (the government) and said it was scared. The government then did what bigger bullies do; it said Atos was rubbish anyway and set about finding someone else to do its dirty work.

Here’s the sticking-point, though – as the BBC identified in its article: “The government was furious with Atos for leaking information it believes to be commercially confidential… If Atos wants to pull out early, some other companies may pay less to take those contracts on than they otherwise would.”

I should clarify that companies don’t actually pay for contracts; they offer to carry out the work at the lowest prices they think are viable, in competition with other firms. The government chooses the company it feels is best-suited to the work. In this situation, it seems likely that the possibility of death threats may put some firms off even applying.

So let’s come back to those threats. A spokesperson for the organisers of Wednesday’s demonstration tells us that pickets took place outside 93 Atos centres, across the UK. Most of these were very small – averaging 30 people or less (I can confirm that in Newtown, Powys, a maximum of 15 people attended at any one time). Brighton and London were bigger, but 12 demos had only one person present.

“That is really funny because, as you have seen, Atos are saying they had to close down all their centres for the day – up and down the country – because of huge hoards of scary, threatening disabled people issuing death threats,” the spokesperson said.

“All demos were peaceful and no trouble or arrests were reported.”

In the spokesperson’s opinion: “Atos have been planning to step down for a long time because they weren’t making enough profit and just used our tiny little demos as an excuse.”

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and sister group Black Triangle issued a joint statement: “The bizarre exit strategy Atos have developed in identifying apparent physical threats on Facebook despite the growing lists of real deaths caused by the WCA regime is an outrageous insult to all those who have died and all those who have lost family members through this regime.

“It is an insult to those left without their homes, without money and needing to go to food banks.

“It is an insult to every person who has suffered worsening physical and mental health through this inhuman regime.”

The statement also poured water on any government claim that other companies had been put off bidding for the contract:”The alphabet corporations – G4S, A4E, SERCO, CAPITA – are already lining up to take over the multi-million profits and the mantle of the new Grim Reapers. The misery imposed by this Government and the DWP will continue as long as its heinous policies continue.”

I would strongly urge all readers to put their support behind the remainder of the statement, which asserted: “The Work Capability Assessment must also end.

“The reign of terror by this unelected Coalition Government which has awarded itself pay rises and cut taxes for those earning more than £150,000 while piling punishment, poverty, misery and premature death on everyone else in its policies of rich against poor must end.

“Make no mistake – we will continue to demonstrate against ATOS, now delivering the complete failure of PIP in which claims are being delayed by up to a year.

“We will demonstrate against any other company that takes over the WCA contract.

“We will continue to demand the immediate removal of the WCA, and the removal of this Government.”

Hear, hear.

In my article on the Bedroom Tax evictions taking place in my home town (yesterday) I made it clear that too few people are bothering to pay attention to the evils of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government. That article received a huge response, garnering almost four times the readership of other recent posts within just 24 hours.

The situation described in this article is much worse – people aren’t being evicted from their homes; they are being forced off of the benefits that have kept them alive, pushed – by the government! – towards destitution, despair and death through either suicide or a failure of their health that their Atos assessment results deny should ever take place.

Today’s article should have more readers, after the success of yesterday’s – but we’ll have to see, shan’t we? If fewer people read it, we’ll know that they all just looked up for a moment, thought, “Oh, that’s interesting,” and went back to whatever distraction keeps them happy in the face of impending government-sponsored pain.

Any attempt to inform the public will fail if the public stops paying attention.

Let’s keep it focused where it belongs.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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Delights – and disgraces – of the Atos day of protest

Taking sides: Some of the demonstrators at Newtown, Powys. [Image: Mike Sivier]

Taking sides: Some of the demonstrators at Newtown, Powys. [Image: Mike Sivier]

Were you one of the many, many people – both able-bodied and with disabilities – who gathered outside Atos assessment centres yesterday to demand an end to the system that continues to cause the deaths of thousands of innocent people every day?

I was.

I attended one of the 144 locations used by Atos to carry out the discredited work capability assessments – in Newtown, Powys – where I was just another face in the crowd that had gathered to remind the public of the atrocity being carried out with their tax money.

The Newtown campaign was undoubtedly small in comparison to others around the country, with a maximum of 15 protesters at its height, but the public response was excellent. The assessment centre is next to a major traffic junction, meaning there were plenty of opportunities to talk to motorists while they waited for the lights to change.

The overwhelming majority of them were enthusiastically supportive.

Also supportive were the local police. We were lucky enough to have two beat officers – I think their names were Graham and Geraldine – checking in on us at regular intervals to ensure that we were not harassed or abused.

I understand that this was not the case nationally – in London, according to the Atos National Demo Facebook page, “150 Police including riot Police were … waiting for 80 disabled demonstrators”.

Elsewhere, people took creative action to raise awareness. Beastrabban’s blog tells of a rosette laid for the victims of Atos and the government’s benefit ‘reforms’ in Derby. He writes: “In the centre of the rosette is a form of the dedication to the dead read out annually for the victims of the First and Second World Wars at the Cenotaph, adapted for these new victims of government indifference and cruelty:

“‘Atos shall not weary them, nor IDS condemn. At the going down of the sun, we shall remember them.’

“Each of the ribbons surrounding this dedication has the name of one Atos’ victims.”

If you want to see the rosette, visit the blog; there is a link to the image.

In Leicester, Jayne Linney was up at 5am, taking her medication, in order to be coherent for a local radio interview at 8am, with time to recover before attending her local demo with around 50 other people.

This featured a programme lasting more than two hours, with speakers, poets and singers – captured by local homeless project Down Not Out and featured in the local press. Further information is on her blog.

But not all experiences were positive. Look at this:

140219atos-wsm-19-feb

This sign was found outside the Atos office in Weston-Super-Mare. I believe the person in the photograph was among those who found it, not those who made it – so please don’t direct any harsh comments at her.

This sign is what greeted demonstrators in Weston-Super-Mare when they arrived at the Atos office there. Clearly this office contains some very hard-line supporters of government policy, whose attitude demonstrates the blinkered, small-minded, fantasy-world attitude that allows policies like the Atos assessment regime to exist in a supposedly advanced country like ours.

For information: Not everybody attending the Atos day of action was on incapacity or disability benefits. Many were people of excellent health who came along because they are thinking people who have realised how hugely damaging the Atos assessments are, or who have friends and relatives who have been victimised by the system, and wanted to voice their opposition.

A similarly large proportion of those taking part – both able-bodied and with illnesses or disabilities – had jobs. They took time off to join the demonstrations because they believe it is wrong to victimise those who are least able to fight back; that it is wrong to bully them into an early grave.

I cannot speak for any of the other events but at Newtown, three-fifths of those present were able-bodied, including myself.

Long-term readers of this blog will be well aware that Mrs Mike has been at the receiving end of Atos – and DWP – mistreatment for years. That is why I am vocal in my opposition to Atos and the government policies that support its assessment regime.

Was the day of action a success? Yes and no.

Undoubtedly the impact on the general public has been huge. Many, many people have been made aware that people are being pushed to their deaths by government policy, and many more will become aware of it over the next few days, as media reports go out in the local press (for example, I’m expecting a report in a Powys paper today).

But there won’t be a change of policy. We have a government that does not care about public attitudes at any time except during election campaigns. At elections, we know that both Coalition parties are happy to lie through their teeth to you, in order to win your votes.

The task now is to remind people on the street of this fact – as often as is necessary to cement in the knowledge that a vote for the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats is a betrayal of the most vulnerable people in the UK today.

After all, what kind of psychopath wants their vote to condemn an innocent person to destitution – and possibly even death?

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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Zones of growth – thoughts on how to improve Mid Wales’ economy

Many of you may be aware of the proposal to create ‘Growth Zones’ in Powys – at Brecon, Llandrindod Wells and Newtown – roughly equivalent to the new Enterprise Zones created by the government elsewhere in the UK. My opinion is that these are a good idea. The Welsh Government has put out a call for evidence on the proposal and information can be found on its website here.

Unfortunately, the deadline for entries is June 1. I’m writing this on May 28 so, if you want to make a submission, you need to act fast!

What follows is my own submission. I want people to see what I’ve put forward because I think it might help them in shaping their own thoughts. I’m not saying it’s perfect because I hope others will have different or better ideas; I’m putting it up in the hope that it will stimulate your imagination, and the Welsh Government will get better submissions as a result.

I would also appreciate your comments and suggestions – just use the form at the bottom.

Here’s my submission:

All three possible locations must be able to compete with the Enterprise Zones that have already been announced, therefore the features common to all of those should be included here. These include: Government support to ensure super-fast broadband, achieved through guaranteeing the most supportive environment and, if necessary, public funding; low levels of regulation and planning controls; a 100 per cent business rate discount over a five year period for businesses that move into a Growth Zone during the course of this Parliament (although I recommend a graded scheme to reintroduce business rates thereafter, alongside a graded penalty scheme for businesses that choose to move away once the discount is removed); all business rates growth within the zone for a period of at least 25 years will be retained and shared by the local authority to support its economic priorities; and Government and local authority help to develop radically simplified planning approaches.

I believe funding should be provided for an office that would help film makers (cinema or television) find locations within Powys. Llandrindod Wells would be the best location (as it is in the centre of the county). Powys has breathtaking natural beauty that has gone unused by film makers, simply because nobody knows about it. A film locations office would bring income to landowners whose land would be used, and to residents who could be hired as ‘extras’ during filming.

Material I have read on Enterprise Zones has categorised them in certain ways, stating what tax breaks, planning controls and broadband levels might be possible, along with a line called ‘Sector Focus’, declaring what businesses should be encouraged into the zone. I would recommend:

Tax break: Save businesses money in foregone business rates.

Planning: Simplified regime permitted the change of use of existing buildings.

Broadband: Explore delivery of superfast broadband with suppliers.

This leaves the ‘Sector Focus’. I would like to propose several possibilities as follows, based on my knowledge of local industry and the possibilities that could be accommodated here in Powys:

Sector focus: Green technologies; Advanced technologies; Movable skills (small businesses that could benefit from working in a rural setting); sustainable agriculture (farming techniques that are beneficial to the environment); creative industries; energy sector (carbon-free/green).