PROTESTERS took to the streets to demonstrate against the government’s controversial use of ATOS, the company commissioned to vet the benefit applications of sick and disabled people signed off work by their doctors.
Yesterday local activists from Swindon People’s Assembly and members of disability groups gathered outside the Job Centre on Princes Street where the firm’s contentious medicals – which help decide whether a person on disability benefits is in fact fit for work– are held.
The practice was deemed disgraceful by campaigners who claimed people unable to work due to a physical disability or mental health issues were too often wrongly stripped of their livelihood and told they should be in employment.
Kate Linnegar, of Swindon People’s Assembly, said: “ATOS have been misdiagnosing the cases of Swindon residents for years, causing unnecessary misery and stress and branding ill people as liars.
“The government uses ATOS to do its dirty work by trying to force the disabled off benefits by claiming they can work and withholding money they need to cope with their disability or illness.
“The tests involve sitting in a chair and asking people if they can make a cup of tea. They do not assess if a sick person can work in a realistic way.”
She also claimed that the assessment went against health professional’s best advice and drove many to despair.
“The government portrays people who can’t work as lazy and scroungers which is a disgrace. These individuals should be assessed by their GP who know their medical history.”
According to figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions, between January and November 2011, nationally 10,600 people died within six weeks of their claim ending.
Sean Wilson, an independent Financial Advisor who had to give up work added: “I have won two tribunals against ATOS. Independent panels of doctors and judges have agreed with my GP’s original assessment and found against ATOS.”
Losing the sum they relied on to retain their independence despite their health issues, disability or profound learning difficulty has had a dire impact on claimants’ health, according to Terry Couchman, who runs advocacy group Your Choice.
“ATOS is actually knocking down a lot of people with mental health issues.
“Benefits are there primarily to enable people with disabilities or mental health issues to be more independent, get help and live better. If it stops they end up worse off.
“It’s more than just about money. It has an impact on their health and mental health. It’s the loss of their dignity and the resources which allowed them to do something for themselves.
“Saying they are fit to work does not mean they will be able to find a job.”
“So they are just left with nothing.”