A disabled man has this week staged a public hunger strike in protest at the failings of the government’s “fitness for work” contractor Atos Healthcare.
Christos Palmer, a former IT technician, has been at the centre of a five-day vigil outside Atos offices in Cardiff.
Fellow campaigners from the grassroots campaigning organisation Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) supported the vigil but urged Palmer to end his hunger strike.
Palmer starved himself for seven days in the week before the vigil, taking food for just one day before re-starting his hunger strike at midnight last Friday (2 November).
He finally ended the hunger strike at lunchtime today (8 November) on the advice of friends concerned for his health. The vigil is due to end at noon tomorrow (Friday).
Campaigning disabled people’s organisations such as DPAC believe the fitness for work benefits assessments, as carried out by Atos, are putting thousands of sick and disabled people under serious and unnecessary strain, forcing them further into poverty, and are even responsible for many deaths, including some people driven to suicide.
Speaking to Disability News Service through social media, hours before the vigil began, Palmer said he was “making a stand against Atos”, which he said was trying to force disabled people back to work when they were not well enough to do so.
He warned of a “massive risk that some campaigners through sheer frustration” would resort to even more harmful protests than his hunger strike because “they see that as the only way to get their message across”.
He said: “I’m risking my health because I have no other option. So many ill people have died due to failing their work capability assessment, which I failed myself in June.” He is now appealing to a tribunal against this decision.
Linda Burnip, one of the founders of DPAC, said it was “frightening that people are being driven to such desperate acts”, but she said that DPAC could not support a hunger strike, although they would offer Palmer personal support.
Palmer said his message was directed at “everyone, the Atos workers, the general person in the street, but more especially Atos Healthcare, the company responsible for destroying so many lives and causing so much misery and pain”.
He said: “I cannot stress how dangerous a fast like this can be, and how difficult it is to start eating normally again. I do not recommend anyone with any health problems going on hunger strike.”
8 November 2012