Atos Origin Disability Benefits Protest

On Monday, a group of us joined a small demonstration in a business park somewhere outside Livingston. We were protesting outside the regional head quarters of Atos Origin, a company contracted by the government to run a medical testing programme of disabled people.

The tests are degrading, poorly run and ultimately allow the government to contract out the dirty work of axing support necessary to some of the most vulnerable in our society. The tests are performed by ‘medical professionals’ – they do not need to be registered doctors or nurses.

Atos are paid according to how many people they assess as fit, and just 9% of those previously considered unable to work are now being found incapable of any work at all.

Around 60% are projected to be taken off Employment Support Allowance (ESA, previously Incapacity Benefit) within one year. Claimants placed in the ‘Work Capability Group’ with working partners will now need to find work within one year or all of their benefits will be withdrawn – a loss of nearly £5,000.

The other main disability benefit, Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is now to be targeted by the government with Atos also being asked to assess capability to work. The government hope that 20% of those currently needing to claim DLA will have their benefit stopped.

Proposals even include stopping mobility support for adults in residential care, leaving some unable to leave their homes. Mobility would become based on “ability to mobilise” rather than to walk, hypothetically meaning that paralympians could be defined as fully mobile.

DLA is not an out of work benefit. It acknowledges the extra difficulties sick and disabled people face to compete on a level playing field with the able-bodied, yet according to this report, compiled for the DWP, the government do not even keep records on how many DLA recipients work.

The Protest

Lothian & Borders Police reacted absurdly in defence of corporate property against 35 peaceful protesters. Over half of whom were visibly disabled.

We counted (and have the numbers for) 25 police officers, 5 vans, 2 motorbikes and a patrol car. I believe there were at least 4 further officers inside the Atos building.

The protest was continual filmed by two officers (4548).

Police continually patrolled the perimeter of the property.

At one point an officer (3926) manhandled a middle-aged female protester – a chief inspector (who witnessed the incident) refused to deal with her complaint on the scene. Instead he gave her a phone number to call. The officer in question carried on policing the demonstration. The woman was visibly in a lot of back-pain and came close to tears when complaining to the chief inspector.

‘A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.’ – Mahatma Ghandi

Much of the information on Atos is syndicated from a post by disabled rights campaigner Sue Marsh on Left Foot Forward. For more information I recommend reading this report published by Compass.

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Scottish College Bursaries Shortfall

For the past three years college bursary funding has been overstretched – leading to colleges having to either dip into reserves or make cuts to the already inadequate levels of student support found in Scotland.

This year colleges are almost £9 million short of demand.

Next year the draft budget proposes a further real terms cut of over £1.7 million for 2011/12. If demand stays the same there will be a £14 million shortfall next year.

Bursary funding is provided to colleges by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and then on to students by individual colleges. The funds are discretionary and cash-limited, available to students on a first come, first served basis, meaning not all students who are eligible for funding will receive support, and not all students with the same needs will receive the same amount of support. When the money runs dry (as it has done for the past three) – it is students who directly suffer.

In 2009, an NUS Scotland survey of college principals found over 90% had experienced severe pressure on bursary funds and many had been forced to cut support for existing students and/or to close the doors to new ones. In 2010, James Watt College made the decision to halve students’ bursary funding for the last month of term because they didn’t have the money to pay them – this amounted ti a funding reduction of over £200 for some students, with very little notice.

Cutting the overall fund will mean that individual colleges will have even less to distribute to their students. Colleges either have to support fewer students, or reduce the levels of support.

Either way, support is withdrawn from some of Scotland’s least well of FE students. Increasing student hardship and stress whilst damaging access to places.

The amount of money in question is trivial relative to the further hardship it will place on students in further education colleges.

This is a disgusting attack on our generation – which will only damage social mobility and the prospects of Scottish students. Ultimately, the whole nation will suffer. And for what? Trivial budget savings.

The system is flawed. It must be rectified.

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First Week of Term Update

‘Tis the end of the first week of term – we’ve been pretty busy!

Sheltering from the rain inside the world's local bank

Sheltering from the rain inside the world's local bank

The following months are going to be key, as we coordinate with other groups across Edinburgh, Scotland, the UK, and even globally!

Some Dates for Your Diary

Right to Work protest – RBS Headquarters in Edinburgh – 4pm – Friday 21st – St Andrew’s Square

Black Triangle (a disability rights group) will be demonstrating outside the Scottish HQs of Atos Origin on the 24th of January – The assault on disability claimants by this government is sickening. 10am – Livingston (just outside the city) – Facebook event

The 24th of January will be our next main meeting – details nearer the time

We are currently looking at how to get as many of us to Manchester for the TUC/NUS/UCU organised demo on the 29th of January (coinciding with the demo in Westminster – called by the EAN and NCAFC). But, alas, money and time is tight for organising transport as a group

Edinburgh Anti-Cuts Alliance Conference on 26th February – Location TBC (hopefully at the University of Edinburgh) – Details to follow nearer the time

If you’d like to get involved with or support the resistance movement –  get in touch at: edinburghanticuts@gmail.com and join the mailing list

UKuncut Protest – 15th January

Despite the weather the protest proved a great success – the public were very receptive. We occupied the HSBC branch on Princes Street, as well as protesting outside Bhs, Boots, TopShop and Vodafone – all guilty of major corporate tax dodging.

There are some nice photos too!

£4.8 billion dodged by Vodafone through agreements made with HMRC

HSBC - Stop Tax Dodgers!

Some hearty protesting inside Edinburgh's main HSBC on Saturday

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Police action following protests

This has been lifted from the ScALP website – (Scottish Activist Legal Project):

Since the anti-cuts protests in November and December several people in Edinburgh have been contacted by police about possible crimes. They have been approached either at home or on the street, and asked to go to voluntary interviews at St Leonards Police Station.

Today, two people voluntarily went to the police station to give interviews and were charged with committing offences during the November 30th Demonstration. More people have been in contact saying that they have been asked to go to police stations for interviews. Here is some information for people who have been contacted, or think they may be contacted.

● If you are suspected of committing or witnessing a crime, arrested or detained you must give your name, address, date and place of birth and nationality. Other than that, it is strongly advised that you say “no comment.” Answering any question, no matter how innocent it seems, may give information to the police which can be used against you or others.

● If you are detained or arrested you have the right to a solicitor, which the police will contact. Below is the solicitor that we recommend. You also have the right to have someone notified. Below is the number for ScALP. If you are worried, keep these numbers with you.

● If the police get in contact then please get in touch with us. We can support you and give you information about what’s going on. Either phone or text message us, or send us an email.

● As the Hitchikers Guide says, don’t panic!

Scottish Activist Legal Project:
0797 556 0809 scalp [at] noflag.org.uk

Clare Ryan (solicitor): 0797700312

If you have been stopped it is critical you get in touch with ScALP – they will offer you great support, and it allows them to keep track of policing. Remember, you are not alone.

A number of these have been in relation to the march on the 30th of November.

We also recommend you read their legal guide, particularly if you are not familiar with Scottish law.

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Her Majesty’s Government Wishes You A Very Merry Christmas!

Keep Calm and Fuck Off

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Solidarity from Iranian Students

Dear friends

We have received your statement of solidarity* and it is indeed beyond all words that how encouraging and heartening we have found it. Your message found us almost on the Students day in Iran, a day in which once again, despite the unprecedented presence of repressive forces, we uttered the voice of our protest in all universities throughout Iran and, yet again, we showed that not only a year of threats, suspensions, arrests and tortures has not brought us to a standstill, but it has only made us more determined to pursue our struggle for freedom, justice and human rights more tirelessly than ever. Our determination for persisting in our cause only increases when we witness that our fellow students in other countries have also chosen to oppose the unjust and discriminatory education policies instead of conforming to the existing order. As we have been following your protests during the past months, we have perceived the common humanistic essence of our struggles and that of yours. This commonness indicates that there exist the chains which tie together human emancipatory endeavors beyond political borders, ties which have become evident, during the student movements. Not only this has offered hope for a better future in our country, but it bears a promise that living in a better world is possible.

Surely there will be those who tell us: “But is a better world possible?” In their view, privatization of the educational system and dominance of the rules of market over universities are immutable parts of the inevitable fate of human societies. Yet we know, better than ever, that the existing conditions are not part of the natural process of humanity, but the artifact of the neoliberal policies and the consequence of their hegemonic dominance within the past decades.

Policies that have forfeited human rights for the profits of free capital flow, and have deprived human societies of their inalienable rights; such as rights to public health care, to free education and to stable employment, which have been gained through centuries of enlightenment and relentless endeavors of successive generations. The devastating consequences of such assaults threaten invaluable human accomplishments; be it in the developed world or in the developing countries. All the same, the extension of neoliberal privatization policies to Iran proceeds to pass similar imposed laws towards privatizing the education and universities.

For this reason, we, the Iranian students, hand in hand with you and our fellow students all around the globe, have a message for those who deprive us of equality in possession of a fairer existence, and replace it with equitability in dispossession. We tell them that living in such a world is not our destiny. For we believe that free and equal existence, for humanity regardless of where they dwell, is possible. We are determined to step toward creating just such a world. Undoubtedly, to get through this path, we have to reinforce our ties beyond drawing up statements of solidarity and arrange an organic relationship in order to exchange our experiences and our capabilities.

Our dear friends, in the great endeavor that you have begun, we, all those who believe in a better world, shall be on your side. We believe that your resoluteness will carry you through your path and brings about your success. We shall prevail.

A group of students and graduates from University of : Tehran, Polytechnic, Sharif, Elm va Sanaat, Khajeh Nasir, Allameh, Razi of Kermanshah, Azad of Sannadaj, Ilam, Gilan, Rasht,Mazandaran, Nooshirvani of Babol, Bouali Sina of Hamedan.

A group of Iranian students and graduate from University of : Polytechnic of Milano, Pisa,Bremen, Aachen, Freie Universität of Berlin , Applied sciences of Munich, Bochum, Essen-Duisburg,Leibniz University of Hannover, Vienna, Leiden, Düsseldorf, Toronto, York, Mc Gill,Leiden, Amsterdam, Delft, Den Haag, Sheffield, Leeds, Nottingham

* Solidarity with Iranian Students:http://blog.ucloccupation.com/2010/12/08/835/

** Due to security reasons individual signatures have not been mentioned.

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‘What we’re arguing against – and what we’re fighting for’

This is a syndication of a post made by Adam Ramsay of Bright Green Scotland and No Shock Doctrine.

George Osborne thought his smokescreen was working. It looked for a while like the people of Britain were going to accept the biggest cuts to public spending seen in the Western world in a century. He had, it seemed, delivered a sleight of hand that would impress even the most slippery magician.

The trick he’s been using to great effect is, though, an old one. It works something like this: in a crisis, people panic. They accept something big has to happen to solve it. But massive crises are complex, and a global economic collapse is particularly hard to understand – we aren’t taught the basics of economic history at school, we learn that these are matters for clever men in suits who use long words.

And so what George Osborne spotted is what right wing politicians around the world have known for the last 40 years: a disaster is a great time to radically change a country. From the privatisation of New Orleans’ schools after Katrina, to the corporate plunder of Iraq after the 2003 invasion, this trick is nothing new. Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine describes in detail how it has been used the world over.

There is a big problem. People understand this might require a big solution. And so they accept policies they would never normally countenance – policies not designed to solve the problem, but to radically change society in a way no one ever voted for.

And like this sleight of hand, Osborne’s “solutions” too are nothing new. The Conservative students I studied with at university – the generation who were born under Thatcher, and are now the researchers and aids to this government – were arguing for 30% spending cuts long before the recession. And their predecessors did too – in fact, in 1910, the Conservative Party brought down the Government rather than allow the people’s budget, the foundation of the welfare state, to pass. And they have used every opportunity since to rid this country of what they see as a dangerous socialist experiment.

And this “solution” is, of course, nothing of the sort. The idea that you solve a deficit caused by unemployment by cutting jobs is economically illiterate. Don’t take it from me – look at what is being said by the world’s leading economists, including most recent Nobel prize winners: Britain is embarking on a radical economic experiment which is not only un-necessary, but probably going to make the recession worse.

But because people have been taught that economics is too complex for us, many people seem to stop listening when you try and explain why the cuts are a bad idea. And I’ve tried lots of ways:

I’ve tried explaining that the Treasury’s debt really isn’t that big: it was bigger for most of the 20th century, and, compared to the size of our economy, is one of the lowest on earth.

I’ve tried to explain that most of the debt is owed to people in the UK: our pension funds buy government bonds. If, as the Tories predict, borrowing did get more expensive, that would just mean that Britain’s pension funds would get fatter – money the Treasury could tax back.

I’ve tried pointing out that the borrowing isn’t getting more expensive, but cheaper. And this is extra-ordinary. Before the election, the excuse that they gave for cutting public spending was that they believed we’d be punished by the bond markets if we didn’t: investors wouldn’t buy government bonds. They were wrong. What has actually happened is that investors have decided that they don’t want to risk buying shares in companies which might collapse, and so they have rushed to buy government bonds. As a result, borrowing is cheaper than it’s almost ever been. The reason they gave for cutting has evaporated. They were just plain and simple wrong.

And I’ve tried explaining the multiplier effect. The way out of a recession is to invest in jobs. Once you’ve created a job, that person buys stuff and pays taxes. The Tories like to compare the national economy to a household. But, when I buy stuff in the shop, I don’t get lots of the money back in tax. And I don’t get even more back in tax when the shopkeeper buys her stock or pays her staff. And again when the staff buy things, and so on. And so the way out of the recession is to look at the real problem – unemployment – and take advantage of record cheap borrowing, by investing. As Nobel winning economist Joseph Stiglitz – former economist for both the World Bank and Bill Clinton – tells us, cutting now could well lead to higher long term debts.

I’ve pointed out that we tried this all before. Cutting spending to pay the debts of WW1 caused the great depression. Building the welfare state allowed us to build our way out of the debts left by WW2.

And I’ve reminded people that it wasn’t public spending which caused this crisis, but listening to crazy right wing ideologues like George Osborne who thought that we should shut down everything and hand our economy to the bankers.

And I’ve tried explaining that public services aren’t a cost to the economy but an investment in the civilisation which makes our economy possible. If we don’t invest in them now, we make our future economy less prosperous, and this will cost far more than our record cheap, very low debt.

And I’ve pointed out that the impending climate crisis means we urgently need to invest to create jobs building a new economy – this can’t wait, and the legacy we leave if we don’t will be unimaginable.

And I’ve tried many more arguments besides. And these arguments work – sometimes. A little discussion of why the great economists of our age think that George Osborne is either mad or bad or stupid often does leave people convinced.

But many turn off at the wiff of a discussion of economic theory. And you don’t get the chance to have that little conversation with everyone in Britain.

However, there is one more argument: one I haven’t yet mentioned, which doesn’t require so much explanation – an argument which convinces almost all who hear it. A fact so compelling that once shouted, it will echo throughout the country:

If the government collected the taxes it’s owed, we wouldn’t have a long term deficit. Instead, they let the mega-rich and big corporations dodge billions every year.

And of course, all of these arguments are what the Labour Party would be explaining, if they were brave enough to challenge Britain’s entrenched corporate power. But they aren’t. And so, with the noble exception of our one Green MP, and a few on the Labour left, it it falls to us, the people, to make this case.

But that’s ok. It’s ok, because this is nothing new. Public services were won by social movements who shouted, and screamed, and withdrew their labour, and occupied, and built new political parties, and, yes, smashed windows. And it’s ok because the fact that they don’t teach economic history in school doesn’t mean that we don’t remember this lesson. It was our grandparents and our great grandparents who won a state pension, who invented the NHS and who built affordable council houses. That was their legacy to us.

And it’s ok because our thanks to them will be to use the technology that our parents with their state funded education invented for us, to organise a resistance to the Tories so strong that our children will never forget. Because the history of Britain is a history of ordinary people fighting the Tories to win a fair share of our country’s wealth and power.

And as UK Uncut have shown, it is not a history that our generation will soon forget. Because people are realising that George Osborne’s smoke screen stinks. And as we blow it away, we will have a chance to learn the lesson Osborne teaches us, and take the chance to work out, together, what kind of country we want to build from the ashes, and leave for our grandchildren. And, if nothing else, that’s worth fighting for.

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