Disabled people, benefit claimants and supporters brought traffic chaos to Central London yesterday after blockading a major roundabout in protest at Iain Duncan Smith’s attempt to install Jobcentre funded busy-bodies in doctor’s surgeries.
Over 100 people gathered for the demonstration which began outside City Road Medical Centre, – one of six surgeries in Islington where so-called Work Coaches are due to be based. Iain Duncan Smith himself even made an appearance, dressed as a doctor and handing out work cures such as the prescription above. The protest was good-natured but determined and made a mockery of the health bureacrats who decided the surgery should be closed for the day due to fears over patients safety. In truth the people really concerned with the welfare of Islington’s poorest residents were out in the street defending them from the latest DWP attack on disabled people and those with health conditions.
After about hour the demonstrators moved off the pavement to march down the busy City Road chanting “We’ve gotta get rid of the rich” and “the NHS makes us well, the Tories make us sick”. On arriving at Old Street roundabout, a major central London junction, the growing police presence was out-witted and campaigners managed to block traffic moving in all directions. A banner was unfurled across the road stating that ‘Working isn’t working’ – a reference to the growing insistence from government that low paid insecure jobs are good for our health.
A large crowd of onlookers gathered with many supportive of the action taken to draw attention to the vicious regime being installed for those out of work due to sickness or disability. A new Health and Work Programme is planned which is likely to include some forms of forced medical treatment for some of those on sickness benefits. Already tens of thousands of sick and disabled people have had their benefits sanctioned for not meeting the endless petty requirement imposed by Jobcentres. Others have had benefits stripped away completely after being declared ‘fit for work’ at a Work Capability Assessment in spite of often serious and even life-threatening conditions.
Appallingly the Work Coaches to be stationed in GP Surgeries will come from the same shadowy private company that runs both these assessments and the local workfare scheme in Islington. The employment advisors, whilst largely funded by the DWP, will be employed by Remploy – once a provider of employment for disabled people until they were sold off by the government and turned into a welfare-to-work subsidiary of the hated Maximus corporation.
Claimants in Islington could therefore be found Fit For Work by Maximus, then forced to attend the Work Programme with Maximus and now even be coerced into being harassed by a Maximus Work Coach when they go to the fucking doctors. So claims from council leader Richard Watts, and other DWP apologists in the borough, that this scheme is officially ‘voluntary’ for participants really don’t count for shit. There have been no public assurances from either Maximus or the DWP that Jobcentres and Work Programme advisors will not force claimants to attend a GP-based work coach under the threat of benefit sanctions.
What is really going on is that this is a pilot scheme intended to provide evidence to justify the upcoming Health and Work Programme. But just in case the evidence doesn’t show what the DWP want campaigners have been informed that there will be no evaluation of the results of the scheme. It is little more than a formality in advance of some of the most brutal policies to be inflicted on disabled people that have been seen in generations. Lefty Islington Council may claim to have had good intentions when they agreed to the pilot, but in reality they have been mugged, by Maximus and the DWP. Now they know how claimants feel.
The protest was organised by Disabled People Against Cuts, Mental Health Resistance Network and Boycott Workfare. A range of other groups came out in support including grassroots trade union United Voices of the World, Class War, Winvisible and Kilburn Unemployed Worker’s Group. Doctors, psychologists and healthcare workers were also present in support. One message rang out loud and strong. This is just the start of a disruptive and militant campaign to destroy Iain Duncan Smith’s Health and Work Programme.
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