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Playing the political game

Parallel to the Paralympics, another set of games was being played out around the country. Ellen Clifford of Disabled People Against Cuts explains

Parallel to the Paralympics, another set of games was being played out around the country. Ellen Clifford of Disabled People Against Cuts explains

The Atos Games was organised by disabled activists to draw attention to the brutal reality facing all disabled people in Britain.

Politicians who sought to bask in the reflected glory of the achievements of our Paralympians are respons­ible for targeting disabled people, slashing benefits and cutting services that provide vital support, and they justify it by labelling us benefit scroungers and inciting public hostility against us.

The week of protests carried the message that we were not against the Paralympic Games and in no way undermined them. In fact, Paralympians including Tara Flood and Stuart Brae came out in support of the week of action, and added their voices to those raising the importance of speaking out against the attacks being perpetrated against disabled people by politicians. If anything our actions allowed the Paralympics to have a credibility which could otherwise have been denied them given the political and economic context in which they were being held.

Current Paralympians acknowledged this by hiding their Atos-branded lanyards during the Opening Ceremony. LOCOG claimed the lanyards were blown aside by the wind but isn’t it curious how the wind only followed ParalympicsGB and no other teams?

We were determined that Atos would not be allowed the chance to promote themselves on the backs of our hard working athletes given the misery and trauma they have been causing among disabled people with the Work Capability Assessments.

So what did we achieve? As well as harming Atos’s reputation, our campaign provided an opportunity to capture real media attention that is too often denied to disabled activists, and the mainstream coverage we had enabled us to bring disabled people’s issues to the wider public.

After all, we had been campaigning for many months against the Welfare Reform bill and our protest­ing succeeded in shutting down Oxford Circus and blocking traffic at Trafalgar Square. But the mainstream media paid us no attention.

Meanwhile, the media and Government continued to pervade public conscious­ness with images of malingerers who burden the taxpayer by making lifestyle choices to claim benefits, but who could work if only they tried a bit harder. The British Medical Association came out and said the Work Capability Assessments should be scrapped and the National Audit Office raised questions about the value of the contract between Atos and the DWP, but still there was widespread support for the benefit reforms.

But as a result of our campaign against Atos during the Paralympics, people have been left in no doubt about the way their Government treat disabled people. The loud booing of Osborne and Cameron as they handed out Paralympic medals shows that they are not happy about it.

We don’t expect the Government to change course with its plans for Remploy, the Independent Living Fund or the Work Capability Assessment.

Through our actions we seek to raise public awareness about the range of attacks facing disabled people and about the alternatives, and to push any incoming government into a position of taking disabled people’s rights seriously.

We cannot forget that Work Capability Assess­ments, the development of the bio-psychosocial model of disability, and contracts with Atos, have history from the days of New Labour and for that reason disabled people cannot trust Labour until they can show us that they have fundamentally altered their approach to the question of welfare reform.

The week of action was not an end in itself, it was the beginning of a fightback, a concerted mobilisation to show that disabled people will not let ourselves be easy targets mown down by overarching political agendas that seek to destroy the welfare state and stamp neoliberalism throughout government.

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