Staff at Archway Jobcentre must have been mystified on Thursday morning when 30 people, some in wheelchairs, gathered outside to protest about medical tests for ESA. ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) is replacing Incapacity Benefit for some 1.6 million people. For most of these claimants it will mean passing a harsher medical test which has been strongly criticised – by the government’s own review – as being “impersonal and mechanistic”. Many people will be thrown onto Job Seekers Allowance (JSA), increasing the numbers looking for non-existent jobs.
The reason people were protesting outside the jobcentre is that above it is the medical assessment centre of Atos Healthcare, the private company with a £500 million contract to do the government’s dirty work. But there is more than just a link in location. The transfer to ESA, the introduction of forced workfare for claimants on JSA, and arbitrary targets for sanctions – all started by the Labour government – are now part of the wider Con-Dem war on the working class: to cut services, cut benefits and cut wages.
The protest was initiated by Islington Poverty Action Group (a self-help claimants’ group) and IHOOPS, and supported by disability groups and others. It was part of an April 14th national day of action against welfare cuts.
David (for IPAG, part of London Coalition Against Poverty)
Here are some photographs and report from the rest of the day.