Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Threat of boycott as Atos Healthcare named Paralympics sponsor

A company accused of smearing thousands of ­disabled Britons by declaring them fit for work is sponsoring next year’s London Paralympics. On behalf of the government, French firm Atos ­Healthcare assessed 1.3million people on incapacity benefit and came to the conclusion that 150,000 of them were capable of working. However, on appeal, the decisions have been overturned one by one and a Commons select committee said Atos Healthcare's “unacceptable” ­blunders had cost the taxpayer £30million a year.

Disabled campaigners are now threatening a boycott of the Paralympic Games insisting that the company is running a flawed process to assess disabled people's rights to benefits and is therefore an inappropriate sponsor of the games. This is denied by Atos Healthcare who said it was not just proud of the work carried out by their staff to "conduct objective assessments" but also "proud of its role as the Worldwide IT Partner for the Paralympic Games".

The last straw for campaigners was the appointment last month of former Atos chief executive - Bernard Bourigeaud - to the board of the International Paralympic Committee. The IPC said M Bourigeaud "left Atos in September 2007 and is a long-time supporter of the Paralympic movement offering some expert advice and guidance. His knowledge and experience will be of great benefit to us going forward."

Campaigner John McArdle called Atos Healthcare’s involvement an “insult”. He added: “Because of them, many disabled people will have to wait months to get their benefits back. Their ­sponsorship is unacceptable.”