On Friday, a large protest temporarily invaded the Atos Medical Assessment Centre on Stoney Street in the Lace Market. Campaigners had gathered as part of a nationwide day of action against the company which is responsible for the Department for Work & Pensions’ ‘work capability assessments’ which have been condemned by disability rights and claimants groups. The protesters handed out leaflets and spoke to members of the public about Atos before Atos employees called the police in claiming that they were being harassed by the protest. Two protesters refused to leave and were arrested for aggravated trespass. A solidarity demonstration was held until both were released.
Since ATOS took over the £100m per year contract for assessments in 2008, the number of people with severe illness and disability being found ‘fit for work’ and having their benefits withdrawn has increased dramatically. A recent open letter to the British Medical Journal claimed that Atos assessors “work to targets which have nothing to do with patients’ individual health needs or with the realities of the job market which sick and disabled people are being thrown into.” 12 Atos doctors are under investigation by the General Medical Council for improper conduct. One of their staff was recently found to have been referring to the people assessed as “parasitic wankers” and “down and outs”.
When protestors invaded the waiting room of the assessment centre to make their views known, the police were called and Atos staff claimed to have been intimidated by them. The police told the occupiers that unless they left the property they would be arrested for aggravated trespass. Two people remained, one of whom was arrested and one wheelchair user whose wheelchair was too big for the police vans was bailed to return to a police station. Supporters held a solidarity vigil outside Bridewell custody suite until the other man was released at about 6.30. Shortly before he got out the Critical Mass bike ride took over the area in front of the Magistrates Court to join the solidarity demonstration and were there to see the prisoner released.