Campaign of the year ….the fightback by disabled people as the Con/Dem Govt stripped some of the most ‘vulnerable’ sections of the community of their benefits. Their campaign against Atos (who made the decisions) during the Paralympics was inspiring and they have led the way in the fightback against the Con/Dem Govt.
Disabled People Against Cuts’ message for 2013: DPAC will not be resting in any tents in 2013 but fighting with disabled people in the courts, on the streets, online and everywhere we can
DPAC wants to thank lipstick socialist readers who voted and urge you to take a look at the other awards for 2012 and the lipstick socialist site here
No, really, I mean it. If I am forced to swallow one more dose of Paralympics hype syrup, I will throw up. With the Olympics, the shock and awe blast of nationalist triumphalist machismo was at least familiar – this is just the capitalist-spectacle-as-usual. But with the Paralympics we have seen the addition into this cocktail of a supremely powerful and toxic ingredient, the opportunity for liberals to feel good about themselves for supporting the underdog and ‘progress in the fight against prejudice’. It is this thick coating of syrup which has confused even radical disability rights advocates, and is making it almost impossible for critics to speak out, except about the blatantly obvious outrage of Atos as sponsors. But the truth is that, despite all the hopeful talk about how the Paralympics are going to revolutionise people’s ideas about disability, the ideas and values at the core of the Paralympics are the precise opposite of the values of disability liberation. (I write this as a disabled person, one who has undergone one of Atos’ medical assessments and been found wanting, and who is suffering financially as a consequence.)
But wait a minute, I hear you say, isn’t that a bit extreme, surely all the visibility and celebration of disabled people’s bodies is a good thing, at least it’s a step in the right direction? Sorry, I’m afraid not. It’s not just that the current epiphany of non-disabled people is shallow (how many of those enthusiastic millions will be attending the protests against Atos?). What is actually going on with the Paralympics is an intensification of the values that drive the oppression of disabled people. And there is actually no contradiction at all between Atos as administrators of assessments that rob disabled people of their benefits and Atos as sponsors of the Paralympics.
First, lets clear away some obvious dead wood. There is nothing useful to disabled people in being seen as inspirational for their heroic overcoming of their impairment rather than as pathetic disgusting objects of charity. As some have already pointed out, since the vast majority of disabled people will never become Paralympians, all this does is to set up again the traditional distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor. Equally obviously, this is the quintessential liberal narrative of the heroic individual, filled with (in the words of Tory Prime Minister David Cameron) ‘steely determination to succeed’. It has nothing whatsoever to do with a collective struggle for disabled people’s rights or the values of disability liberation. I don’t remember a wave of national euphoria about collective achievements of the disability rights movement.
Only slightly less obvious is that the deluge of what has now been dubbed ‘inspiration pornography’ is not about us: it’s composed largely of non-disabled people’s self-congratulation that they have overcome their bad feelings about disabled people and relief that they are no longer being asked to feel sorry for these poor creatures. The inspirational narrative makes them feel much better. The medical model again But the heart of the issue is this: this change of narrative is just the flip-side of the same coin, the medical model of disability, the rejection of which, in favour of a social model, has been the theoretical foundation of disability liberation for the last 30 years. While the medical model says that disability is caused by impairment, the social model insists that people are dis-abled by society that refuses to accommodate their needs (for a decent income, accessible transport, buildings etc). Medical model thinking is always focused on our individual impairments, and how we can overcome them.
In the past, the non-disabled people’s predominant feeling about this was despair and pity, expressed by wanting to help through charity; all that’s changed is that now they’re excited that it seems that impairments can be overcome after all. Can they not do better than go from one end to the other of this stupid construct? I am neither a hero nor a victim, just an ordinary person, as we all are. At the heart of the medical model is a value judgement that seems to be such a matter of common sense that it does not need examining; low functionality – bad, high functionality – good, and this is what is being celebrated at the Paralympics, (and, of course, in competitive sport in general). Here we are seeing the flip side of the medical model, a triumphalist ‘we can fix it with technology’ narrative that, in the age of high technology and biomedicine, has superseded the old designation of disabled people as ‘incurables’. Technocracy
The point is that the Paralympics don’t just reflect the familiar capitalist values of competitive sport, they also represent something just as deep and significant, the values of technology. The concept of functionality/performance/efficiency is one of the concepts that come from machines and engineering that have been the ruling concept of capitalist technocracy for the last 400 years. In economic theory, it is efficiency that leads to success in the marketplace. The medical model of disability springs directly from technocratic thinking. In capitalist technocracy, what matters is not ‘arbitrary’ or theoretical ideas (like religions or humanist principles) lacking a firm evidence base, but utility, ie. what works, what can be palpably felt and cashed out. ‘Facts! Give me facts, not fancies,’ declares Dickens’ Mr Gradgrind (Hard Times).
Thus Atos’ medical assessments are not about what illness/impairment you have, rather they are (supposedly) scientific assessments of the functionality of your body, what tasks it can and cannot do. It is perfectly logical within this technocratic way of thinking that people with terminal cancer can nonetheless be fit to work. This ruthlessly scientific way of thinking is, naturally, being implemented in the government’s planned Personal Independence Payments, replacing the Disability Living Allowance system that ‘arbitrarily’ accepts people with certain conditions as eligible for benefit payments.
In a world in which functionality rules, Atos as sponsors of the Paralympics makes perfect sense. And all the ‘radical’ talk of integrating the Olympics with the Paralympics, since the performance of Paralympians is approaching that of Olympians, is just another manifestation of technocratic thinking: in a world ruled by a linear scale of performance such ‘arbitrary’ distinctions are a form of discrimination, aren’t they? It is always the ironing out of ‘arbitrary’ anomalous barriers that is defined within liberal technocracy as progress. ‘Superhumans’?
A well attended ceremony took place yesterday evening outside City Hall, London to make the opening of the Atos Games.
Disabled people and supporters held speeches and a mock medal ceremony to launch the Week of Action Against Atos timed to coincide with the Paralympic Games.
Atos are paid £100 million a year to carry out the brutal and demeaning Work Capability Assessments on behalf of the Government. This short computer based health assessment has led to tens of thousands of sick and disabled people being stripped of vital benefits.
Atos have recently won the contract to assess all those claiming Disability Living Allowance, a process which has the stated aim of removing financial support from a fifth of disabled people. Astonishingly Atos are also sponsors of the Olympics Games.
At the mock ceremony last night, Paralympic Gold medal winner, Tara Flood was stripped of her medals as she was declared no longer disabled by Atos assessors. Speakers from Disabled People Against Cuts and Transport For All, who both helped organise the event, spoke of their experiences at the hands of the company and their fury at Atos attempting to gain positive publicity on the back of the Paralympic Games.
Those assembled were warned that Paralympian Athletes will also soon face assessment by the company who have shown no mercy to even those with life threatening conditions. A recent investigation found that 32 people a week die after being judged ‘fit for work’ by the company.
Atos were warned that we are coming for them – in the Courts, in Parliament, in the Courts and most importantly on the streets.
Protests will take place around the UK outside Atos offices today as part of the Week of Action. A Mass Die In will take place in Cardiff on Wednesday whilst a Memorial Service will be held outside their London Headquarters on the same day.
In spite of implicit claims in the Brindle article1 that there is no ‘fight back’ disabled people have stopped traffic in Oxford Street 2, Trafalgar Square 3, protested against and closed the offices of Atos, protested online through blogs and social media, provided briefing notes and researched and gained significant victories in publicising exactly what is happening -both DPAC and Black Triangle hope they have been an impetus, along with the growing network of allies, user-led disabled peoples’ organisations and key anti-cuts groups across the UK and in Europe –all of us recognise the severe harm that the ‘cuts’ are doing to large groups of ordinary people.
In the very first DPAC protest on 3rd October 2010 disabled people came together to lead the march against the cuts proposed by this Government, liaised with unions and other anti-cuts groups- it poured with rain, but DPAC were the first to have a synchronised online protest too. Disabled people saw a need for early action at a time when many formal disabled peoples’ organisations (DPOs) made few public statements on spending reviews or cuts and when the big disability charities remained silent. From the 100 or so original October 2010 protesters and campaigners –there are now thousands, overall numbers are growing at rapid rate- contra Brindle, disabled leaders are emerging in their hundreds trained by anger and despair at what is happening to their lives and the lives of others under this Government.
The reality of the impact of the cuts on the lives of disabled people are much worse than any of us imagined on that rainy day in October: framed by an apparent media campaign in some sections to demonise disabled people as ‘scroungers (despite administrative error and fraud at 0.04 and 0.5% for disability support) 4, we have seen a rising level of disability hate crime, increasing suicides amongst disabled people 5, more and more disabled people relying on handouts from family and friends because they are being left without any income, disabled people losing their homes, disabled people with paid jobs seeing those jobs removed in a clear ‘cuts agenda’ 6, basic support from local authorities being cut to the bone, a move back to the threat of institutionalisation and away from independent living, and a move away from inclusive education for disabled children.
The UK was once a European example of how disabled people’s inclusion, support and equality could be applied. It’s now an example of how fast these basic human rights can be reversed. In two years we have witnessed: the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) to new applicants, disability living allowance (DLA) to pay for the additional costs of disability being stripped from individuals, DLA to be replaced by an expensive and unnecessary round of reassessments for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) with a pre-assessment criteria that 500,000 people will lose all support, cut backs and a steep fall in Access to Work applicants with a tightening of criteria and more costs being passed to employers. We see that some individuals pronounced as ‘fit for work’ by Atos are dying days after leaving their assessment centres, while those with terminal illness and less than 12 months to live
are being told to seek work, and having income stopped.
This regime is not about supporting disabled people nor is it about supporting disabled people into work – it’s about cuts. It’s about erasing the years that individuals have worked and paid national insurance for welfare support. It’s not about saying the social model has failed- it hasn’t, if anything it’s been made stronger. It’s about recognising the imposition of a bio-psycho social model- a model
that the Government and its partner companies use to provide a bizarre focus on denying disability, impairment and ill-health each of which are being reconstructed as individual failings brought about by individuals adopting the wrong attitude-thinking yourself ‘well’ is cheap-it’s also impossible.
The recent Dispatches and Panorama television programmes on the work capability assessment (WCA) and the regime used by Atos exposed what many of us have known for too long to a wider audience: a system designed to remove over a million disabled people from welfare support that has caused misery, anxiety and the premature deaths and suicides of an estimated 32 people a week. The WCA – a revolving door of Atos assessment, appeal, tribunal, and reassessment has produced horror stories of inhuman proportions. In one of the programs an Atos ‘assessor’ asked someone who had taken several overdoses why they weren’t dead yet. There are stories of people being forced to walk until they collapse and being declared ‘fit for work’ and those that Atos has signed off as unfit for work on employee schemes being declared ‘fit to work’ on the state schemes of cuts under the WCA. Atos have recently been awarded the PIP contract and are official sponsors of the Olympics. These are additional reasons why the Atos games: a week of activities for people to raise the issues of the inhumanity of these ‘tests’ and the callous removal of vital supports is happening.
The use of Tom Shakespeare’s quote in the Brindle piece that ‘… the politics of disability seem to have run out of steam.’ is grossly misleading: disabled people are fighting back in every way we can: Black Triangles’ tireless campaign to secure a total condemnation of the WCA by the British Medical Association resulting in the call for ‘the WCA to end with immediate effect’, the Mental Health Resistance Network’s successful case for a judicial review of the WCA, the exposure of the ‘tampering’ with the Ministry of Justice’s You Tube video to help people through appeals against
Atos decisions’ by Government, the continuing evidence and fight back for Atos assessments to be scrapped, the continuing legal challenges, the use of social media to spread information, undercover work with and by researchers, Freedom of Information requests and gains from empathetic media, lawyers, and MPs are all part of the ‘steam’-This is not being led by well paid Charity directors, nor as Macrae suggests by those who see themselves as victims but by disabled people without any funds fuelled by a raging sense of injustice and the will to fight back.
John McDonnell’s words from the opposition day debate on disability benefits and
social care in which he stated his support for DPAC, Black Triangle and the Remploy
…the Government should not think that this issue or these people are going
to go away because they are not: these people are mobilising. We now have
a disability movement of which we have not seen the equal of before…these
people are not going to go away. They will be in our face-and rightly so’
The Atos games are an opportunity for all to show their anger at the disproportionate cuts being imposed on disabled people. They are an opportunity to mobilise against the carnage the cuts administered by this Government are causing.
Details and resources including local actions pack and a minute menu of protest
activities on DPAC dpac.uk.net
We want to thank the Guardian for publishing ‘The Atos Games will showcase disabled peoples anger at the Paralympic sponsers’ and all those that helped get the CiF piece online here
Like millions across the UK, I was inspired by the London 2012 Olympic Games. I decided I wanted to take family to the Paralympics to sample the once in a lifetime showcase of disabled sport in London.
I am a wheelchair user, with a four-year-old autistic son and a nineteen-month-old baby. Naturally we wanted to sit together and, particularly as it’s the Paralympics, I assumed there would be adequate provision for this to happen. I was stunned to hear that there was no way that this could happen as there is a policy that wheelchair users can only be accompanied by one other person.
I cannot believe that this event, designed to inspire a new generation of athletes, has a discriminatory ticketing policy. It’s essential that my husband sits with me as he helps me with things I need to do and clearly my kids can’t sit separately. Quite apart from these practical considerations, I want to share this special occasion with my family, but I’m being prevented from doing so just because I am in a wheelchair.
Please join my campaign to get the organisers of the Paralympics to change this ticketing policy for these and future Games – so every family may share the Paralympics together.
The sham that was Disability Capital 2011 (20th October at London Excel) reinforced the Government’s determination to set disability policy without any reference to disabled people ourselves and the reality of our day to day lives. Disabled People’s Organisations were markedly absent from the organisation and running of the event and those that did consider it worth attending went to protest. The aim of the day seemed to be to exclude and silence disabled people and to avoid those topics that we did want to hear about and question. Enough was however said to make it plainly obvious that the politicians responsible for setting current government policy are completely out of touch with the realities of disabled people’s existence.
The most basic details of the event reveal a lack of consideration for disabled people’s attendance. People First Director Andrew Lee said
“we told the GLA if they had the conference at the Excel disabled people wouldn’t be able to get there but they didn’t listen”.
Not only was the conference venue difficult to get to, the conference opened at 9am to start at 10am, leaving disabled people with a Freedom Pass just half an hour to travel across the capital in the post peak-time rush to get there for the keynote speeches. Moreover the main mode of transport to get to the venue, the DLR, was disrupted by non-operational lifts at many of the stations serving it. Worst of all, there was no lunch provided, leaving attendees to fend for themselves at the over-priced outlets in the Excel. It certainly appeared as if the GLA wanted to hold a Disability event without any disabled people being there.
Islington DPAC banner
Those disabled people who did attend were restrained from asking difficult questions or getting our points of view across. Security made Islington Disabled People Against Cuts take our banners down, and when we draped them across the empty chairs we were informed there were 1000 people booked to attend and all the seats were needed. Not even half that number showed up. Then there were the questions, hand-picked from ones submitted in advance.
Both Transport for All and Inclusion London pre-publicised the range of pertinent questions they put forward to ask but the majority went unanswered. Not content to be silenced in this way, protestors heckled the Mayor of London and Minister for Disabled People, Maria Miller during their keynote speeches. This provided the entertainment for the day as politicians put on the spot revealed their levels of ignorance and prejudice.
Mayor Boris Johnson showed himself completely out of touch with the concerns of disabled people. He thought we should be celebrating the 2012 Games, after all, some tickets are priced so extremely reasonably at under one hundred pounds. He told us that not only do disabled Londoners have the Games to look forward to, we also have the prospect of the South Bank, a veritable “party zone”, as he described it, bring made accessible. In future disabled people will theoretically be able to party freely in the Southbank. If only we had the income, the support and the transport to get there.
Disabled members of the audience called out and heckled the Mayor about something called Atos.
“Well, there’s clearly a lot of concern about Atos sponsoring the Paralympics” he conceded, “Why is Atos sponsoring the Paralympics? I don’t know”, he told us. “I’ll have to go and discover that from some learned quarter”.
He promised that if people stopped heckling and let him finish, he would come back to questions from the floor, mainly about Atos, at the end. He didn’t of course. By the time the hand-picked advance questions had been covered, it was too late and he had to leave, although not before he enlightened us on such burning topics as “What bit of the Paralympics is the Mayor most looking forward to?”, and “What does the Mayor know about sickle cell” (cue patronising sympathy and a recited Wikipedia entry).
So no, we never really got to the heart of the Mayor’s understanding of his government’s vicious erosion of disabled people’s rights. Maybe because he doesn’t have one or maybe because that’s what he would rather we believed. However he did promise that if we write in to City Hall after the conference with any questions that did not get answered he would receive a reply.
Killer Miller poster for Maria MillerMP
After Mayor Boris came Maria Miller MP. She was vehement in her defence of the right of Deaf members of the audience to follow the conference and that meant all hecklers had to be quiet. Never has a politician cared so much about the rights of the Deaf community as Ms Miller appeared to that morning. Suits in the audience felt emboldened to tell protesters to “shut up” so they could hear our venerable Minister speak as she painfully regurgitated the social model of disability and independent living philosophy as a justification for cutting services. Undaunted, the few disabled people in the audience called out “Lies, lies”.
Finally, a hard-hitting question, about the target of reducing DLA claimants by 20%, was allowed through. Maria Miller MP responded by telling the room that the majority of people on DLA do not have life-long conditions. She claimed it is in the interests of people with fluctuating conditions and those with learning disabilities, to be regularly reassessed. She never said why, or mentioned the cost of continuous review and reassessment, or explained how people with learning difficulties will be able to engage in the review process when their support packages are being slashed. And then it was time for her too to go.
The Atos question was resurrected again in a subsequent session about the 2012 Games as a disabled member of the floor insisted that a question be posed about Atos sponsorship. (Of course this question had not been chosen from those sent in in advance as sufficiently interesting to be covered).
Baronness Tanni Grey -Thompson explained that as the Welfare Reform Bill is currently at Committee stage it would be inappropriate for her to comment and would damage her credibility among her peers (pun intended). However only about 25 people had actually contacted her to raise concerns about Atos sponsorship of the Paralympic Games and if there are more people out there who are worried about it, by all means they should contact her and let her know.
So in light of this invitation I would urge all DPAC members to contact Grey-Thompson and make sure that whether she supports our objections to Atos or not, she cannot continue to say that only 25 people in the country have an issue with Atos sponsoring the Paralympics Games. Contact her at http://www.tanni.co.uk/contact/