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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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