CAMPAIGNERS have staged a protest outside the offices of a firm carrying out controversial disability benefits checks.
The demonstration at the offices of Atos in Stanley Street, west Hull, was timed to coincide with the start of the Paralympic Games in London and the company’s sponsorship of the event.
The French IT company is contracted by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to carry out work capability assessments on disabled people.
The assessments check whether sick or disabled people are entitled to claim benefits or whether they are fit for work.
Critics claim the process is degrading and forcing some people into work they are not capable of doing.
Earlier this month, the National Audit Office criticised the DWP for setting low performance targets for Atos and failing to challenge the accuracy of data being submitted by the firm.
The peaceful demonstration was led by Mark Baggley, co-ordinator of the Hull-based Choices and Rights Disability Coalition.
He said: “Atos are paid millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money by the DWP to carry out the notoriously inaccurate work capability assessments which are responsible for pushing disabled people into poverty and desperation.
“Our demonstration is part of a week of protests against Atos spearheaded by Disabled People Against Cuts to coincide with the Paralympic Games.
“We are aiming to highlight the hypocrisy of the company who cause so much misery to disabled people being allowed to sponsor the Paralympic Games.”
Mr Baggley said the protest was not directed at any of the staff working for Atos.
Instead, he laid the blame on the Government for unfairly targeting disabled people by changing the benefits system at the same time as issuing lucrative contracts to private firms.
“The Government maintains that the benefits system needs to be reformed but by the DWP’s own figures. Disability benefit fraud is no more than 0.5 per cent of overall benefit fraud,” said Mr Baggley.
“Meanwhile Atos chief executive Thierry Breton took home a £1 million bonus last year and the National Audit Office has raised concerns about the contract the DWP has with his company.”
In a statement, Atos said: “We fully respect people’s right to peaceful protest and we understand this is a highly emotive issue.
“We do not make decisions on people’s benefit entitlement or on welfare policy but we will continue to make sure the service we provide is as highly professional and compassionate as it can be.
“We do this through a constant programme of training and education for our staff, a rigorous recruitment process for healthcare professionals and through continual work with the Government, disability rights groups, healthcare professionals and those going through the process on the ground.”