The firm that conducts the assessments on behalf of the government (and who get paid £100 million a year for doing so) are ATOS Healthcare. This is a company whose conduct has been regularly criticised by various investigations and committees looking at the welfare system and who have something of a shabby record when it comes to the way their staff treat disabled people (such as calling them "parasites").
But that's besides the point. You see, as part of my work with the motion, I joined a forum called Carerwatch which is a support group for carers looking after sick or disabled friends and relatives. It's nothing special as forums go, just carers and disabled people talking about how things are going for them, how they're finding the assessment process, and so on.
But a few days ago, the forum was shut down completely by the hosting company. No advanced warning, no nothing. The people who ran the forum didn't even have access to a list of the emails of users so that they could let them know what had happened. They were inundated with emails and phone calls from people in tears who relied on the forum for moral support and as a place to talk about what they were going through.
It turned out the reason the forum had been shut down was that Atos lawyers had complained about unspecified "libellous" comments made in the forum to the hosting company who shut down the forum rather than risk being taken to court. The people who ran the forums have written to Atos about it and offered to remove any libellous comments as long as they are told which are the comments in question and Atos have agreed that the site should be restored (subject to conditions) but, as of the time of writing, the forum is still down.
This isn't the first time something like this has happened either. Various other websites that have criticised the way Atos treats disabled people, such as After Atos and Atos Register of Shame, have been forced to shut down in the face of threatened libel proceedings from Atos.
Atos is a £4.4 billion company which, once again, has used bully tactics to silence critics. Carerwatch is currently being very careful with what it says in order to avoid any further problems with Atos but I'm not a part of Carerwatch and I don't have to worry about other people suffering as a result of what I say.
So let me say this plainly and clearly on behalf of all those who might be thinking this but daren't say it themselves. Atos healthcare are bullies and the way they have moved to silence their critics is absolutely disgusting. And if Atos has a problem with me saying that then tough as they won't be able to bully me into silence.