ANGRY campaigners took to the streets yesterday to signal their disgust at the conduct of a private company charged with decided whether people are fit for work.
Members of Disabled People Against Cuts and Left Unity protested outside Job Centre Plus, in King Street. It is home of Atos Healthcare Wigan Assessment Centre, which is run by a private French company performing Work Capability Assessments (WCA).
The demonstration was one of 144 national events across the country which highlighted their anger after a Freedom of Information request revealed the firm wrongly assessed tens of thousands of sick and disabled people as fit for work, ending their benefits.
Organiser Hermann St John said: “This is part of a campaign to defend people who are legally ill and disabled who are being forced into work as part of the DWP’s targets to get people off benefits.
“People at Atos are not medically trained. Staff dismiss GPs and consultants’ advice, despite them being the experts,
“I know of people with severe disabilities and have been in a wheelchair all their life and they have been declared fit for work. We call Atos a miracle cure because we get assessed and suddenly we are cured.
“There are very few safe environments for disabled people to work in, especially as most Remploy sites are shut.”
Co-organiser Stephen Hall said: “I know someone who was undergoing brain surgery and had been assessed as fit for work.
“How can this French IT company assess whether people can work?”
Leslie Deane, 66, now retired, of Wigan, said he was forced to work at Manchester United for four years, protecting players, whilst he suffered severe arthritis.
He said: “Ten years ago I was crippled with arthritis and I was told there was nothing wrong with me and I was forced to work.
“I then fell down the stairs at work because my legs collapsed.
“But Atos still didn’t recognise me and would not give me any back up. It causes great mental cruelty and anxiety to being forced into work when we are not capable,”
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said:
“Atos was appointed the sole provider for delivering WCA by the previous government. In July, Atos had been instructed to remedy the unacceptable reduction in quality identified in the written reports.
“We will also be bringing in additional provision to deliver WCA with the aim of increasing delivery capacity and reducing waiting times.
“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.
“This government is absolutely committed to supporting disabled people.
“Independent reports show how we are world leaders in support for disabled people with the UK’s spending on disability-related benefits a fifth higher than the EU average.”