I read a letter in a local newspaper the other day. The writer was praising David Cameron for reducing the number of people who were on benefits and for making them work for a living instead of scrounging off the state. He seemed to think that some 60% of those people on benefits had now been found work by the government, freeing up a considerable amount of money from the welfare fund.
Where on earth had he got this evidence from? Surely he didn't just rely on the government or the right wing newspapers for his information? Surely he realised that the "facts" supplied from these sources would be biased?
Why didn't he know that the Department of Work and pensions (DWP) has subcontracted out this benefits reduction work to the French-based company ATOS, which has cost the country over £110 million to date. Or that some 20,000 of this year's assessments had been declared sub-standard, resulting in 37% of those disabled people who'd had their benefits stopped having them reinstated under appeal?
Why didn't he know about the estimated 25,000 people who have died whilst participating in this so-called welfare reform, many of them undergoing the Work Capability Assessment managed by ATOS? (The figure of 10,600 people who died during the period between January and November 20011 was recently substantiated by the DWP's own records.) Or that this 'fitness for work' test continues to kill, on average, 32 people each week, due to stress induced by the process or by suicide as a result of their benefits being stopped? (The actual death toll is estimated at just under 72 people per week, but this includes people who have died of impairment/illness related causes.)
Why didn't he know that Margaret Hodge, as Chair of the Public Accounts committee, has recently issued a statement to the effect that ATOS, during the period 2011 - 12, have been taking the DWP (and this country) to the cleaners and are still exploiting many loopholes created in the process?
The letter-writer could research the figures for himself. They're all in the public domain - though admittedly not published by the likes of the Daily Mail or the Telegraph - but available to everyone who has access to the internet. I've even made it easy for him by putting links to these various sources in my blogs!
The real problem with our letter writing friend is the true facts do not support his predudices. It's more comfortable for him to accept the pap he is fed, without analysis. He's been told that we're either super hero Olympians or despicable scoungers and he's bought it! He's lazily accepted the version that slots into his existing pre-conceptions.
Of course, he'll rationalise, there are bound to be a few genuine disabled people who get caught up amongst the fakes, but that's inevitable. You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs can you?!
But at its core, our letter writer's perspective is one without compassion, without understanding, without generosity of spirit and certainly without intelligence.
There's a phrase for what's happening to disabled people you know. It's called colateral damage ... and that's what we've become. The colateral damage in Cameron's callous financial missile-firing.
Oh and by-the-way, welcome to the Big Society!
Disabled people across the country are furious following the Prime Minister's comments at the Tory party conference about his own experiences based on his late disabled son and father.
He painted a rosy picture of the lives of disabled people in the UK following the recent Paralympics and that people were now "seeing the person and not the wheelchair". Although as one pundit commented, thanks to his policies people saw neither the person or the wheelchair, but instead saw a welfare scrounger!
His speech came at the same time as the results of a survey about the true cost of the government's welfare reforms were being circulated.
The survey, highlighted by Exaro, the investigative website and targeted at GPs, confirmed that many disabled patients have been driven to suicide due to the Government's fitness to work test.
Six per cent of doctors have experienced a patient who has attempted - or committed - suicide as a result of “undergoing, or fear of undergoing” the Government's fitness to work test.
The survey also found that 14 per cent had patients who had self-harmed as a result of the test and that a further 20 per cent of GPs had at least one disabled patient who had thought about suicide because of the test.
Alongside of these alarming statistics are the figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) confirming that 10,600 people participating in the welfare reforms had died during the period January to November 2011.
These figures are derived from administrative data held by the Department for Work and
Pensions and assessment data provided by Atos Healthcare and confirm that upwards of 72 people a week involved in the government's welfare changes have died and that 32 deaths per week are linked directly to people having undergone the ATOS Healthcare fitness to work assessments.
You can see more of Crippen on his alternataive cartoon blog. Please click here for a link to the site.
For those historians amongst us you'll have realised by now that this Tory government is just another manifestation of the idle rich, raping and pillaging their way through the land with their eyes very much fixed on the short term.
As far back as ancient Rome, the various emperors manipulated public opinion and made sure that there were plenty of scapegoats to blame for the decline in the standard of living. They also became very adept at creating colourful distractions in order to misdirect the public.
Cameron and his henchmen, realising that the general public need to blame someone for the state of the country, have already been sowing the seeds of hatred in the Tory press.
Disability hate crime has risen considerably due to this, and a large percentage of the public now associate disabled people with benefit scrounging.
So what better way than to fulfill this manipulated expectation than to create yet another extravaganza and give the public what they think they want!
I received an update on the ATOS Games this morning from Mark Baggley of Choices and Rights (additional updates from DPAC are also at the end of this blog).
The ATOS Games for those of you who haven't been paying attention are a series of organised protests against ATOS, the principle sponsor of the 2012 Paralympics. Principle organisers of the protests are Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and Choices and Rights Disability Coalition.
ATOS is the French based company who have been given licence by the DWP to run roughshod over disabled people and our basic human rights, slashing and burning through the benefits system and alledgedly causing the deaths of many disabled people who were wrongly diagnosed as fit for work.
Here is the update from Mark.
We have today completed our first part in the ATOS Games by protesting outside the local ATOS assessment centre in Hull. We had a good gathering of disabled people and supporters who had a range of banners, slogans and chants “ATOS, ATOS, They Don’t Give ATOS!” and excellent media coverage including BBC Radio Humberside, BBC Look North, Calendar (ITV), Independent Radio (Viking FM) and Hull Daily Mail.
We spoke to many local people to inform them what the protest was about and somehow the building windows became covered in posters featuring Crippen cartoons. These were removed by a somewhat friendly security guard who returned them to us!
The next part of our campaign is to take part in the ATOS phone jam on · Thursday 30th August 2012. Let’s flood ATOS with calls, and generate a Twitter-storm they can’t ignore! To take part in this, all you have to do is ring them and tell them why you object to what they are doing. ATOS don’t like to give out their local numbers, but we very resourceful and they can be contacted on Hull (01482) 328812. Alternatively, you can ring the national office on 0113 230 9175
To recapp ...
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!
We’re not against the Paralympics or the people taking part in it. We’re highlighting the hypocrisy of Atos, a company that soon may be taking disability benefits from the people winning medals for Team GB.
Ever since George Osborne announced he was slashing £18 billion from the welfare budget, the government has paid Atos £100 million a year to test 11,000sick and disabled people every week, then decide whether they’re ‘fit for work’.
Atos uses an inhumane computer programme to do the testing, and trains its staff to push people off benefits. The government has admitted the tests are flawed, and the British Medical Association wants them to end immediately.
But Atos continues to devastate people’s lives. Many have committed suicide because of its testing programme, and over 1,000 people have died of their illnesses soon after being found ‘fit for work’.
We won’t let them get away with murder, so join in The Atos Games however you can – online, on the phone, or on the streets!
We’d really like YOU to make this week of action a great success! Let’s come together and show this monstrous company that we’re stronger than them. They’re the vulnerable ones and they know it.
Let the Atos Games continue!
Further Action by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC)
Hundreds of protesters brought traffic to a standstill last night when they demonstrated against the French firm they say is forcing people to work when they are sick.
Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) were protesting against Paralympic sponsor Atos, which carries out work capability assessments for the Department of Work and Pensions.
Yesterday they dubbed their action a “die-in” as they lay across the road outside Cardiff Castle, at the corner of Duke Street and Kingsway, as part of five days of action across Britain.
Film of live action
Click here to watch video of ATOS protest in progress.
I found this article in the Guardian archives which may have some relevance to the forthcoming Paralympics and the proposed ATOS protests.
Back in 2008 the British Olympic Association (BOA) said it would review its athletes' contract for the Beijing Games after criticism of a clause which had prevented competitors from making political statements in China.
The clause, which appeared to go beyond the requirements of the Olympic charter, will be softened although athletes who engage in overt political demonstrations or statements could still risk being sent home.
Simon Clegg, the BOA's chief executive, said: "I accept that the interpretation of one part of the draft BOA team members' agreement appears to have gone beyond the provision of the Olympic charter; this is not our intention, nor is it our desire to restrict athletes' freedom of speech ..."
"This clause is intended to stop overt statements such as wearing a Free Tibet shirt," said a BOA spokesman.
The games have long provided a political stage, from the Nazis' appropriation of the 1936 games to Tommie Smith's Human Right's salute in Mexico in 1968.
The then shadow culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said Britain's athletes should be allowed to "say what they want". The Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, said: "[It is] our moral responsibility to push for human rights wherever they are being abused."
I understand that this clause still stands, which means that any disabled athlete joining in the ATOS protests may face censure.
But think of the publicity that this would generate for the cause of Human Rights for disabled people in this country. Worth a slap on the wrist I would have thought.
So, are their any Paralympians out there willing to make such a statement on behalf of their disabled brothers and sisters ... ?
I didn't think so!
You can read the full Guardian article by clicking here
So, let's take the suggestion a little further shall we?
We've already decided if disabled athletes AND disabled artists work together then we have a real chance of putting a spanner in the works of this divisive government, even if it's a small one.
Because let's face it, some of those disabled athletes out there are only a hair's breadth away from falling into the benefits trap that many of us currently find ourselves in.
Disabled athletes are currently the flavour of the month, especially with all of the Paralympic hype that's going on. But what happens afterwards? When their 'special' status changes and they become just another disabled person, ripe for attack by the ConDems and subject to the brutal fall of the cutting blade.
We all have our moments. Currently for disabled athletes it's the 2012 Paralympics. For the rest of us Crips it's the workhouse.
So come on you Super Crips. How about directing a bit of that limelight onto the rest of the disability stage. We need your help to highlight the reality for thousands of fellow disabled people who are being put through the ATOS wringer - with some failing to come out the other side.
Together we can make changes and have this unique opportunity to do just that. By all means compete and get your medals, but also, when the members of thepress want to interview you, talk to them about the real plight of disabled people in this country!
Thanks for listening.
Crippen's strip cartoon
And don't forget that you can visit Crippen's latest strip cartoon episode of the O'Crype family and their involvement with the Cultural Olympiad.