Helen Lasham reports on a warm welcome in Halifax for the anti-ATOS demonstration last
On 19th February 2014, a group met outside the Job Centre Plus buildings in Halifax to demonstrate specifically against the deaths associated with the government-appointed business ATOS, which is responsible for carrying out Work Capability Assessments (fit-for-work tests).
Since the national demonstration, ATOS has said it’s handing back the disability
assessment contract, citing the negative publicity caused by mass protests.
Department of Work and Pensions statistics show that there have been 10,600 deaths within six weeks of people receiving ATOS communications that their benefits have been cut as a result of fit-for-work tests. These statistics are now no longer collated. The deaths of individuals whose benefits have been cut following ATOS Work Capability Assessments have been caused by terminal illness and suicides.
In Halifax, the group of about 30 braved below-freezing temperatures to bring the issue
to the attention of the wider community. People approached the group and talked about
their own experiences of loved ones being overwhelmed by ATOS’ uncaring and threatening approach to the process of re-assessing their benefits. People spoke about how distressing the process was for their family members, exacerbating symptoms, particularly in the case of mental distress.
The group were warmly supported by the people of Halifax who beeped support as they
passed us in cars, thumbed up and shouted their approval to the demonstrators.
A Freedom of Information request has found that the government has told ATOS to stop
repeat Work Capability Assessments from 20th January 2014 and to leave people on
Employment and Support Allowance. The government didn’t see fit to tell claimants about
this, or MPs either.
In the wake of Atos’ decision to hand back its contract following the national
demonstration, there are renewed calls for a UK-wide day of action against the bedroom
tax on April 5th.