In September 2011 two Nottingham residents, a retired paediatric nurse and
a wheelchair user, were arrested at the local Atos ‘Healthcare’ assessment
This pamphlet looks into the wider context of their case. It also offers
practical suggestions for persons who need to claim disability benefits &
support and/or want to engage in direct action.
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Open letter to the BMJ and RCN
Professor Harrington, independently review my crippled arse!
On claiming disability benefits/support
From ESA claim to Atos assessment
How to support those in trouble
In September 2011, two Nottingham residents, a retired paediatric nurse
and a wheelchair user, were arrested following a peaceful protest at the
local offices of Atos ‘Healthcare’. Dubbed the ‘Atos Two’, they were
subsequently charged with aggravated trespass.
Faced with an impressive solidarity campaign and having a pathetically
weak case, Atos and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) backed down in
January 2012. According to the CPS the case was ‘discontinued’ because the
‘complainant no longer support[ed] the prosecution’. It remains unknown
whether this change of mind was due to Atos’ own concerns of further bad
publicity and/or whether the CPS advised the ‘complainant’ to back off
before both company and prosecutors risked humiliation in court.
In any case it is without question that the remarkable acts of solidarity
with the ‘Atos Two’ by hundreds of supporters did make a significant
impact. The public pressure mounting up even before the trial had started
will have made an impression, demonstrating the importance of such
practical acts of solidarity and the potential of mutual aid and support.
Atos ‘Healthcare’, a division of the international IT giant Atos S.A., has
in recent years been the target of numerous protests. The company plays a
crucial role in the government’s attack on people with disabilities as it
administers a phoney ‘medical’ assessment, which is the core element of
the Work Capability Assessment (WCA).
The WCA was originally brought forward by a Labour government and has
since been endorsed by the ConDems. It was specifically designed by the
Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to force people claiming Incapacity
Benefit (IB) or trying to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
onto Job Seekers Allowance (JSA), regardless of claimants’ physical and/or
psychological issues. Apart from the WCA being structurally biased against
claimants, Atos’ implementation of the ‘face-to-face’ assessments quickly
resulted in the company becoming infamous and feared amongst people in
need of disability benefits.
As Atos is such a particularly disgusting part of the modern British
welfare system, there have been a number of protests against the company’s
offices all over the country. The protest in Nottingham was not unusual in
having been not only entirely peaceful, but also extremely (one might even
say far too) polite.
The rather ham-fisted reaction by the local police, better known for their
frequent blunders and blatant incompetence rather than a particular urge
to repress peaceful protests, and the CPS’s decision to go ahead with the
ridiculous charges, were widely received with astonishment. The
politically motivated prosecution of the ‘Atos Two’ may even indicate a
change in the attitude of the local force and the CPS towards
demonstrations. This perspective was only underlined by one copper’s
comment, stating on the day of the arrests that ‘there’s been too much of
this sort of thing going on and we’ve been told to crack down on it.’
This case of political policing, aimed to intimidate protesters and deter
further acts of direct action, is also not an isolated one. At the close
of a relatively lively year 2011, in which Nottingham saw many protests
and acts of direct action, there were a number of arrests of Uncut
activists, whilst critical journalists faced harassment by the police
(with officers unlawfully confiscating tapes after an arrest had been
Whether or not these cases really mark the beginning of a wider crackdown
on local protests, they exemplify that any attempts of reaching out to the
police will always be futile. Even an apparently sympathetic copper
fulfils a distinct role in society; she/he is being paid to enforce the
state’s monopoly of violence and to defend the property and production
relations. In order to do so they are trained and willing to follow orders
(otherwise they would not be coppers). No matter how much some people try
and get them on board because ‘they are facing cuts too’, that will never
ever stop a cop from going after you and/or your friends if they are
ordered to do so.
The relatively high number of protests in Nottingham and the described
acts of repression need to be seen in connection with the wider upsurge in
direct action throughout Britain since mid-2010 and the attempts to quell
it. Although actions deemed violent by the laws of the propertied have
been relatively rare exceptions, any form of protesting is only tolerated
until a certain line of annoyance is crossed. Therefore even those taking
part in rather fluffy actions are increasingly running the risk of being
harassed, assaulted and arrested in an attempt by police and the justice
system to deter any further direct action.
The offence of aggravated trespass is frequently used to criminalise
protesters. One high profile example is the on-going case of those
prosecuted for the occupation of Fortnum & Mason (F&M), Her Royal
Highness’ sandwich and fizzy pop provider, in March 2011. The offence of
aggravated trespass was invented in the 1990s in response to the successes
of hunt saboteurs and road protesters and has since frequently been
modified to allow it to be used ever more widely.
Offences like aggravated trespass or for example obstruction are handy
tools for law enforcers as their relative vagueness allows them in many
cases to find a judge willing to convict people who have (allegedly) been
involved in very peaceful protests (as in the case of the F&M occupiers).
And even if a conviction is unattainable, arresting and repeatedly bailing
people is a simple but effective tool for gathering intelligence and
keeping tabs on people, often hindering them from engaging in further
direct action for months at a time.
Everyone engaging in any form of direct action, however peaceful and
polite, must be aware of, and vigilant against, the possibility of
repression. Those engaging in more edgy actions must be even more prepared
that the police and justice system will do what they can to go after them.
Even quite harmless acts can get you imprisoned, as despite rising prison
populations, people are being sent down for using joke shop smoke bombs on
With this pamphlet we want to offer practical advice to people who want to
engage in direct action and/or need to claim disability benefits/support
from the welfare system. We also look into the wider political context of
the case of the ‘Atos Two’ by providing articles regarding the demise of
the welfare system in general and the WCA in particular.
There are numerous groups and individuals working hard to resist the
attacks on the welfare system as well as acts of repression. Instead of
trying yet again to reinvent the wheel, we have drawn heavily on some of
their excellent materials written over the years. We would like to thank
everyone for their vital work, which provides such essential support for
so many people.
The first text in this pamphlet is a slightly abbreviated and edited
reprint of an Open Letter initiated by WinVisible with a number of other
campaigning groups, originally published in 2011. It poignantly summarises
the case against Atos, for example by highlighting some of the many cases
in which being dragged through a WCA has directly or indirectly caused the
The article Devastating Welfare? discusses the wider context of the
current attacks on the welfare system, providing some historical
perspectives as well as outlining some of the dilemmas facing those
resisting these attacks.
Subsequently the article …review my crippled arse! is looking into the
legitimisation of the WCA. It outlines and criticises some of the
underlying assumptions and the interpretation of evidence in the so-called
independent reviews of the WCA, which (although initially perceived with
some hope) turn out to be nothing but deferential whitewash for the
A number of appendices offer some practical suggestions for people who
need to claim disability benefits/support and/or want to engage in direct
action. These passages draw on excellent materials originally published by
various groups, for example the Black Triangle Campaign or the Legal
Defence and Monitoring Group (LDMG). General advice on disabled persons’
dealings with the welfare system is followed by suggestions for those
facing an ESA claim and an Atos ‘face-to-face’ assessment. Finally two
appendices provide the reader with information on how to protect
themselves and others from the fallout of resistance, offering advice on
what (not) to do if you end up getting arrested and some ideas how to
support others if they become subject to repression.