Activists from Cheltenham & Gloucester Against Cuts joined the demonstration outside Gloucester`s Jobcentre Plus building (Cedar House in Spa Road) on Wednesday to show our disgust at the way disabled people have been treated by private sector involvement in a system which is supposed to protect those who are unable to work. This was just one of many protests taking place nationally.
In Gloucester a large board was on display showing the plight of some of the vulnerable people driven to suicide by a ruthless corporation (ATOS) which had deprived them of their benefits, encouraged by government contracts and targets. Despite the cynical propaganda spewed out by the government and the mainstream media – which have tried to demonise and cast suspicion on those who are disabled and unable to work – it quickly became clear that passers-by were not fooled. Many stopped to chat, others beeped their car horns and waved their approval of the demonstration. In fact it was so uplifting we spent four hours there!
The Coalition government has claimed it wants to get as many people as possible (disabled or able-bodied) into work, yet unemployment has soared since it came to power. This is an inevitable consequence of the devasting cuts in spending on public services which have a huge knock-on effect on the private sector. At the very same time that mass unemployment has made finding a job more difficult, the consequences of being unemployed are deliberately being made more serious. This is bad enough for those in good physical and mental health, but those whose health is poor are further humiliated by being forced to undergo the Work Capability Assessments (WCAs) carried out by companies like ATOS.
These WCAs have rapidly become notorious as they very frequently find that people who are suffering from serious physical and mental illnesses are “fit-for-work”. Whistleblowers and undercover filming have shown that staff carrying out and administering these tests are very uncomfortable with what they are being asked to do. The PCS union which organises many workers at Jobcentres issued a statement in support of the demonstrations which was very candid on the role of ATOS in cutting entitlements to fulfill the government`s agenda:
“Scrap demeaning work tests and sack Atos (18 February 2014)
Ahead of tomorrow’s national day of action against Atos, PCS calls for the demeaning work capability tests to be scrapped.
The union says support to help sick and disabled people find work if they can should be brought back in-house.
It adds that the tests currently carried out by Atos on behalf of the government are designed solely to cut entitlements and have no place in our social security system.
The union is supporting the national day of action on Wednesday (19) organised by disability campaign groups Disabled People Against the Cuts and Black Triangle.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “It is a scandal that the likes of Atos are profiting from this government’s cold and calculating assault on sick and disabled people.
“The demeaning tests should be scrapped and the work to provide the kind of professional and caring support that disabled people need and deserve should be brought back in-house.””
Candid views from a right-wing politician involved in so-called “Welfare Reform”
The involvement of ATOS in government welfare-to-work schemes started under the last Labour government, and one of the key politicians involved, former City financier David (now Lord) Freud has “served” both the Labour and Conservative parties during their respective periods in power. Some of his views given in interviews on private sector involvement in welfare-to-work schemes are very revealing. In February 2008, while he was “Welfare Reform” adviser to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Freud told the Daily Telegraph he thought it was possible to get “about 1.4 million back to work”. By the time the final question of the interview came around he seemed to have forgotten the need to pretend he favoured an economy with lower unemployment, and when asked whether he thought there would be a recession, he replied
“Yes, because we should have recessions every five or six years and we are due one”.
This was one of the rare instances of a politician publicly departing from the mantra of claiming to want an economy that will produce “jobs and growth”.
The following year it was clear the recession he`d told the Telegraph “we should have” had well and truly arrived. Freud joined the Conservative Party (where he received his peerage), shortly afterwards appearing on Radio Four`s Today programme (16 February 2009) where he said the following about the private companies bidding for contracts to help the long-term unemployed back to work:
“there are fewer vacancies, there are more jobless, which could actually be good news for the private companies”.
Clearly a politician who wants recessions “every five or six years” is not interested in reducing unemployment!
The PCS union has produced two excellent booklets which can be read online or downloaded as PDF files:
There is an alternative: The case against cuts in public spending
‘Welfare – an alternative vision’ is about the need to defend and strengthen the welfare state.
Its aim is to arm activists with the information they need to campaign against attacks on benefits – and to put forward ideas for the future of the welfare state.