One wheelchair user suffered a broken shoulder yesterday after police indiscriminately attacked a peaceful protest held by disabled people and supporters outside the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).
Several hundred people had earlier gathered outside the London headquarters of Paralympic sponsor Atos as part of the week of action against the company. Atos carry out the Work Capability Assessment, a computer based test which has been used to find hundreds of thousands of disabled and seriously ill people ‘fit for work’.
Tragically several people have committed suicide after Atos and the DWP have connived to cut their benefits, whist many more have had conditions worsened by the endless and traumatic assessment regime. Astonishingly Atos are also sponsors of the London Paralympic Games.
Whilst speeches and angry chants condemned the company outside their own front door, other disabled activists had joined up with UK Uncut outside Caxton House in Westminster, the home of the DWP. Several people gained entrance to the building, with two wheelchairs users locking themselves in the doorway. A line of people formed in front of the doors with banners effectively closing the building down.
After several minutes of confusion on the part of G4S security staff, scores of police arrived and pushed past the line of people into the building. As more and more police arrived a tense stand off took place with growing numbers of police both inside and outside the building.
Luckily help was at hand as the demonstration at the Atos HQ ended and over 200 people came to join protesters outside the DWP. A lively crowd gathered outside the building whilst another line of wheelchair users formed in front of the door.
The police response became increasingly aggressive as groups of officers repeatedly attempted to push through lines of people and clear the space. At one point police charged out of the building, lashing out at disabled and non disabled protesters like. This caused several people to be pushed onto the line of wheelchair users, with one man suffering a fractured shoulder as a result, whilst another protester was pushed out of their wheelchair. When one man objected to this wholly unnecessary use of violence by police he was arrested.
Disabled activists have expressed outrage at this reckless and irresponsible police response which could easily have resulted in far more serious injuries (or even worse). No thought seemed to be given at all to the large numbers of disabled people, or those with serious health conditions, who were present at the demonstration. Many in the crowd expressed disbelief at such unnecessary violence at an entirely peaceful occupation of the lobby of a public building. With the recent acquittal of Simon Harwood, the police officer who killed Ian Tomlinson at the G20 demonstration in 2009, it appears the police have new confidence in using violent tactics to suppress peaceful protest.
As police finally managed to secure the front doors of the DWP, ironically blockading it themselves, the mood eased slightly and people began to make speeches telling of their experience at the hands of Atos and the DWP. Eventually those protesters remaining inside the building were allowed to leave and emerged to large cheers from the assembled crowd.
Whilst the day was marred by the police’s use of unnecessary force, it was still a great success with the largest demonstration so far outside Atos and a creative, and ultimately hugely successful direct action at the DWP. Whilst just a few miles away Paralympics were being celebrated, the events taking place in Central London showed the true face of this Government’s attitude towards disabled people. Paralympians are handed medals for the cameras in front cheering crowds whilst hundreds of thousands of disabled people face benefit cuts and poverty. Yesterday’s events revealed that those who complain can expect to be violently attacked by state thugs.
Disabled People Against Cuts, who called the protest, have vowed not to be deterred with more actions and protests planned. Other groups are also mobilising to resist this toff Government’s endless war on those with least. A National Day of Action Against Workfare has been called by Boycott Workfare for next Saturday 8th September.