Campaigners in Bradford are set to join a nationwide day of protest on Wednesday against the company used by the Government to carry out ‘fit for work’ tests for sickness and disability benefit claimants.
Protesters will gather at 8am outside Atos Healthcare in Bank Street, a centre used to conduct capability assessments on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions.
The demonstration is one of more than 140 planned across the UK by campaign groups such as Disabled People Against Cuts and Black Triangle.
Protesters say the methods being used are not fit for purpose given they are not performed by medical professionals, labelling the system a “cruel and callous victimisation of disabled people”. Charlotte Milliner, 31, who plans to speak at Wednesday’s protest, was forced to give up a part-time masters degree in Archaeological Sciences at Bradford University during 15 months spent trying to overturn an Atos assessment decision on appeal.
Miss Milliner, who has suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome, or ME, since she was 17, said: “Being found fit to work enough hours to support myself financially would have posed a substantial risk to my health.
“The people used to perform these assessments are not qualified and often have no knowledge of your specific medical condition. This protest is about raising public awareness of this issue, as it causes a huge amount of emotional suffering and financial stress for those involved.”
Last July, whistleblower Dr Greg Wood allegedly lifted the lid on the “toxic culture” within Atos, and an e-petition by the ‘War on Welfare’ campaign group, calling for a halt to work capability assessments and an inquiry into welfare reform, has gained more than 100,000 signatures to try and force a House of Commons debate.
A DWP spokesman said: “The WCA was introduced in 2008 by the previous Government, which appointed Atos as the sole provider. We have made, and continue to make, significant improvements to the WCA process.
“However we think it's right to see what work people can do with the right support, rather than write people off on out-of-work sickness benefits as sometimes happened in the past.”
A spokesman for Atos Healthcare said: “We absolutely respect people’s right to peaceful protest, and we are well aware that being assessed for benefit entitlement can be a difficult experience. However, lobbying against Atos will have no impact on welfare policy. It is not, nor has it ever been, our role to make decisions on who can or cannot receive benefits.
“We carry out assessments following strict guidelines and criteria written by Government. For the parts of the process we are responsible for, we work hard to treat people with care and respect.”