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Protests At ATOS HQ

August 31, 2012

Get BBC coverage. This is a big day and we should celebrate that, if nothing else.

Disability rights campaigners have ended a week of protests outside the central London headquarters of IT firm Atos which carries out the government’s “fit for work” assessments.

Atos Healthcare is one of the main sponsors of the Paralympic Games.

Campaigners claim its tests for people on disability allowances are “damaging and distressing” and have even led to suicides.

Atos said it ensures its service is “professional” and “compassionate”.

‘Damage and distress’

The government – which makes decisions based on Atos Work Capability Assessments – has said it is trying to control the cost of disability allowances.

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.

It has said checks are important to make sure the benefit system supports people and does not trap them.

Demonstrations have been held throughout the week, culminating in an attempt to bring the firm’s headquarters in Triton Square, Marylebone, to a close.

Claire Glasman, Winvisible campaigner (pictured in wheelchair with loud hailer) has cerebral palsy and is on incapacity benefit.

She said that under Atos’s assessments wheelchair users are considered as those able to walk because they can “mobilise”.

She said her group has campaigned for a mother with a spinal injury who was injured at work, found unfit to carry on at work but scored zero on her assessment meaning she must apply for Job Seekers Allowance, find waged work or rely on relatives.

Ms Glasman said: “We don’t know how people are managing.

“Women are particularly affected because we are the ones most likely to be doing unwaged caring work as well as coping with severe health problems.”

Roger Lewis from Disabled People Against Cuts told BBC Five Live assessments were causing “huge damage and distress to disabled people”.

He said: “We now have a situation where we know that people have gone through the Atos assessments who have unfortunately died as a result. Some have committed suicide. Some have had heart attacks.”

He said a parliamentary group of MPs has been looking at coroners’ reports where Work Capability Assessments have been cited as a contributing factor.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said it did not have research data on the impact of assessments on people’s mental health and that no links could accurately be made to suicides.

A spokesman said 15% of “fit for work” decisions were overturned on appeal and the system was subject to an annual review.

He said: “Since 2010 we have considerably improved the Work Capability Assessment process.

“As a result we are seeing an increase in the number of severely disabled people being given long-term unconditional support.”

An Atos spokeswoman said it continually worked “with the government, disability rights groups and healthcare professionals and those going through the process on the ground.”

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