ATOS/DWP “Fit for Work” protest

To coincide with the Paralympics, Up to 150 disability rights campaigners including members of Disabled People Against Cuts and UK Uncut, have been protesting outside IT Firm Atos headquarters in protest of the “fit for work” assessments which it carries out on behalf of the Government, This culminated in an attempt to bring the French firm’s headquarters in Triton Square, Marylebone, to a close. and Includes A protester who was seen carrying a banner for Cecilia Burns at the protest outside Atos HQ (Who had her benefits cut in February and recently died) Protesters have also targeted the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) building in Westminster and a small break-away group, including two wheelchair users, blocked the doors of the office in a “surprise secret action”, UK Uncut said.However Protesters who got inside the DWP building have since been removed.

The government – which makes decisions based on Atos Work Capability Assessments – has said it is trying to control the cost of disability allowances and isseeking to reassess all 2.6 million people on incapacity benefit – and its successor employment support allowance (ESA) – by 2014 in an effort to encourage more people back to work and to cut the welfare bill. It says more than £600m a year is being spent on overpayments to people who no longer qualify for the level of benefits they are receiving and has said checks are important to make sure the benefit system supports people and does not trap them. Claire Glasman, Winvisible campaigner has cerebral palsy and is on incapacity benefit. She said her group has campaigned for a mother with a spinal injury who was injured at work and found unfit to work but scored zero on her assessment meaning she must apply for Job Seeker’s Allowance, find waged work or rely on relatives. Campaigners say its tests for people on disability allowances are “damaging and distressing” and have even led to suicides and Work Capability Assessments have been cited as a contributing factor.

Cancer sufferer Cecilia Burns 51 from Strabane, County Tyrone, had her benefits cut by government officials from Atos Healthcare who said she was fit to work, and she fought a decision to cut her benefits and started a campaign in February to have the decision overturned. During her campaign she said she was “disgusted” after the government cut her sickness benefit and told her she was fit to work.Cecilia Burns had her Employment Support Allowance reduced by £30 a week even though she was still undergoing treatment for breast cancer and described the medical test as a “joke”. She had her benefits reinstated just a few weeks ago but sadly passed away on Monday.

As a result  Disability Rights campaigners have been deeply critical of all aspects of the current assessment and decision-making process  and this has led to calls to improve the Work Capability Assessment process with many saying that the current assessments are causing huge damage and distress to disabled people and want to see a much fairer system which does not penalise those who need the help most, and targets Benefit cheats who are conning the system instead of the most vulnerable in society, and those who can’t fight back. Campaigners have also questioned the objectivity of these decisions given that many genuinely disabled people who have severe disabilities, chronic conditions and life limiting illnesses are being disallowed, and   feel like they are being treated like second class citizens by the Government Having said that the system was subject to an annual review recently and 15% of “fit for work” decisions have been overturned on appeal and there is an increase in the number of severely disabled people being given long-term unconditional support.”

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