PROTESTERS gathered outside a medical assessment centre to voice their anger over the way disabled and mentally-ill people are being treated.
Around 20 demonstrators with placards gathered at the Atos centre at Wingfield House, in Commercial Road, Portsmouth, which is where people to go to for work capability assessments to see if they are eligible for employment support allowance.
Protesters say that many people are being deemed fit-for-work – even though they have serious illnesses and cannot physically work.
They say people are being put through stressful medical interviews.
The rally was part of a national day of action across the country as protesters call on the government to no longer use French-run Atos to perform the assessments.
Lisa Fletcher, 38, the chairwoman of Unite Community Portsmouth, said: ‘We are here to protest because they don’t do a good job.
‘They should be dropped.
‘One of the issues is they are making people fit for work who are not fit for work - it’s disabled people, mentally-ill people, people dying of cancer.’
The protesters claim there are several deaths every week because Atos is declaring people fit for work as it causes extra stress and suffering.
She said: ‘Forty per cent of people who appeal win but it can take between one and two years. This is costing taxpayers even more money.
‘We need to change the system - it’s a computerised, tick box system.
‘We are human beings at the end of the day. You can’t treat people with disabilities and mental illness like this.’
Christina Rissen, 50, from Denmead, who works with disabled people, wore a head bandage with blood stains and carried a placard saying ‘Fit for work’.
She said: ‘A lot of disabled people I know are having their benefits stopped, saying they are fit for work.
‘Even incontinent people have been told to go to work and change while they are there. It’s really unfair.’
Kelly Tomlinson, south east co-ordinator for Unite, said: ‘We believe Atos assessments are cruel and vicious.
‘We hope this protest will achieve public awareness and Atos may rethink their policies and the government may force them to do fairer assessments.’
Ministers last year announced they were commissioning other private firms to add further capacity to the assessment system.
Documents from the Department for Work and Pensions leaked to a national newspaper claim that these providers may take over the whole contract from Atos when its £500m deal ends next year.
Private providers reported to be in the running include G4S, Serco, A4E and Capita Group.
An Atos spokeswoman said: ‘The department has made it clear that it is considering bringing additional providers on board.
‘We recognise that many people have strong feelings about work capability assessments. The constant flow of criticism inevitably has an impact on our staff who diligently endeavour to carry out assessments as laid out in DWP guidelines.
‘We are committed to working with the department to help them meet their needs and the needs of claimants.’
Disability minister Mike Penning last week told MPs the scale of appeals - around 600,000 since its introduction - meant there was ‘real concern’ about the work being carried out.
A DWP spokeswoman said: ‘Atos were appointed the sole provider for delivering work capability assessments by the previous government. In July we announced Atos had been instructed to enact a quality improvement plan to remedy the unacceptable reduction in quality identified in the written reports provided to the department.
‘We also announced in the summer we will be bringing in additional provision to deliver work capability assessments with the aim of increasing delivery capacity and reducing waiting times. The invitation to tender will set out that the quality of assessments and service delivery is central to how work capability assessments are delivered.’