Local cancer support groups have said they will not stop protesting outside ATOS Healthcare offices in Derry until the organisation stop operating in Northern Ireland. Last month, ATOS’ contracts for Work Capability Assessments (WCA) were stopped in England, Scotland and Wales but the controversial company will continue to decide whether people are fit for work in the North of Ireland.
On Thursday, members of local cancer support groups ‘The Pink Ladies’ and ‘The Pink Panthers’ were joined by elected representatives from Sinn Fein, the SDLP and leading voices in Derry’s trades union movement.
Danny McNamee from ‘The Pink Panthers’ told the ‘Sunday Journal’ that he attended a WCA in the ATOS Offices on the Strand Road and he described the procedure both as “terrifying” and “demeaning”.
“We feel like second class citizens. If ATOS is no longer good enough for England, Scotland and Wales then why should be good enough for us. I’ve been to the offices for a WCA and they are terrifying and demeaning. Even though I am clearly sick they said I was fit enough to work.
“It’s got to the stage now that I don’t want to appeal their decision because of the stress and anxiety it will cause.”
Pink Ladies volunteer, Maureen Collins, called on the immediate scrapping of ATOS’ contract in the North and said she knew from working with the people the stress and anxiety the company have caused to people living in Derry.
“The reason we are here today is because of the unfair.and flawed process carried out by ATOS in this city. “We will continue to protest outside their offices until they no longer operate here. We, working with people suffering from cancer and other conditions and illnesses see the pressure and stress these so called Work Capability Assessments can have.
“We call for an end to this process and we call for an end to ATOS. ATOS have lost their contracts in England, Scotland and Wales and we are now calling for their contract, which is expected to operate here until 2018, to end now.”
Clare Cregan, a member of the Pink Ladies and a breast cancer survivor, said she knew of other group members who have had to attend WCA appointments.
“I know of a few of our members who have cancer and once they have finished their treatment they attend one of these WCAs and they are told by ATOS that they are fit to work - this is simply not on and if they are not good enough for the likes of England, Scotland and Wales then they most certainly are not good enough here.”
Repeated attempts were made to contact ATOS, all of which were unsuccessful.
A spokesperson for the Social Security Agency said: “Social Security Agency decision makers make all decisions as to whether a claimant is fit for work, or entitled only to a benefit which has work conditionally attached. ATOS have a contract solely to carry out Work Capability Assessments on behalf of the Social Security Agency. This assessment forms part of the evidence which a decision maker would take into account in reaching a decision on benefit entitlement. Any customer who disagrees with the decision by a Social Security decision maker has the right of appeal to an independent Tribunal.”