DISABLED activists stormed the headquarters of a private company which is carrying out the controversial tests to see if they should work instead of receiving benefits.
Friday’s occupation of the offices of Atos in Elthorne Road, Holloway, came during a demonstration outside the building organised by Islington Disabled People Against the Cuts.
Campaigners say they are being unfairly targeted for the government’s spending cuts and the company’s computer-driven tests have resulted in people with terminal illnesses and severe disabilities being judged “fit for work”.
Seventy per cent of decisions are overturned on appeal.
Around 20 of the 40 demonstrators peacefully occupied the offices for 20 minutes. They chanted slogans until the police arrived and asked them to leave.
One of the protesters, Pat Lynch, 52, said his colleagues also tried to invade the adjacent Department for Work and Pensions offices.
“I’m in a wheelchair but some of my colleagues went inside,” he said. “Atos had security guards who brought a dog van and parked it at the end of the street. They didn’t use the dogs but they were where we could see them.”
Mr Lynch, a former housing worker, told the Tribune earlier this year that even though he can’t walk, because of a cyst between the brain stem and spinal cord, he was declared fit to work by Atos. It was only with the intervention of Emily Thornberry, the MP for Islington South, that his benefits were restored.
Another protester, who asked not to be named because he works in the area, but who is blind, added that the protesters were joined by supporters from the National Union of Teachers and Islington Hands Off Our Public Services (Ihoops).
“Atos staff spend more time looking at their computers than talking to the people they’re assessing,” he said. “There’s something decidedly wrong with the way Atos is administrating the test. The new benefit itself, Employment and Support Allowance, only lasts for 12 months if you are deemed able to work. I think that’s shocking. There is much more to come from disabled people.”
Atos failed to respond to a request for a comment. Previously however, Work and Pensions minister Chris Grayling has told the Tribune: “My message to people who are worried about this process is that this is all about helping those who can return to work.
“It’s not about forcing people to return to work, but unless we do the assessments, unless we identify who has that potential, we’ll never be able to offer that help.”
Published: 15th July, 2011
by ANDREW JOHNSON