Atos - Protesting will not change welfare policy

Medical assessment company Atos say ongoing protests outside their premises - including in the north west - will have no impact on welfare policy.

Trade union Unite protested outside the Atos and Social Security offices in Derry and Strabane on Wednesday morning.

The company have been carrying out work capability assessment process for Britain’s Department of Work and pensions since 2008 and the north’s Department of Social Development since 2011.

“We absolutely respect people’s right to peaceful protest and we are well aware that being assessed for benefit entitlement can be a difficult experience,” an Atos spokesman said.

“However, lobbying against Atos Healthcare will have no impact on welfare policy. It is not, nor has it ever been, the role of Atos Healthcare to make decisions on who can or cannot receive benefits.

“We carry out assessments following strict guidelines and criteria written by Government. For the parts of the process we are responsible for, we work hard to treat people with care and respect and constantly improve our service.”

Derry SDLP councillor Angela Dobbins said the current system hurts society’s most vulnerable.

She said change was needed to “ensure that the most vulnerable and ill in our society are protected from undue hardship.”

Sinn Féin Councillor Colly Kelly said:“People have every right to protest, I have attended a number of protests organised by community groups at the ATOS building on the Strand road over the past year.

There is no confidence among the public in the ATOS system .Many people in Derry see it as a mechanism for reducing the number of benefit claimants in line with Tory ideology.

“The system of Work Capability Assessments is severely flawed. It forces people to complete a random questionnaire on the state of their own health instead of making decisions based on medical evidence.

“Why is the opinion and expertise of medical professionals with intimate knowledge of the individual not considered by ATOS? It is a disgrace that disabled people or those who are suffering from severe illnesses are being forced to run the ATOS gauntlet.”

“My party colleague Mickey Brady who is a member of the Assembly’s Health Committee and who has vast experience in welfare rights has notified the ATOS Chief Executive that he will be putting future concerns directly to her and will be calling on her to address the glaring inadequacies in the current arrangement.”

Earlier this month, the ‘Journal’ revealed almost 900 ill or disabled people in Derry have been wrongly told they were fit to work by Atos since mid 2011