Campaigners are to protest outside the company which conducts “fitness for work” assessments of disabled people for the government, but has leased inaccessible buildings to carry them out.
The protest in Norwich tomorrow (March 23) is being supported by two disabled people’s organisations, Norwich Access Group and Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People (NCODP).
They say the Norwich offices used by Atos Healthcare to carry out the much-criticised work capability assessments (WCAs) – which test eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits – are inaccessible to wheelchair-users.
They also say that public transport links are too far away from the offices for them to be used by many disabled people attending their assessments.
Last July, the Commons work and pensions select committee criticised Atos for holding many assessments across the country in inaccessible buildings.
George Saunders, chair of Norwich Access Group, said: “Our government has awarded a multi-million pound contract to a company which can’t even rent a building which their customers can access.
“I think this is a real statement of the coalition government’s attitude towards disabled people.”
Mark Harrison, NCODP’s chief executive, added: “This multinational company makes profits from disabled people and disabled people can’t even get into their premises.
“Everything this coalition government does seem to have a negative effect on disabled people, their families and carers.
“This is yet another example of our elected representatives putting the needs of private business before those of the poorest in society.”
The protest was called following the treatment of a disabled couple at the Norwich offices, and an incident involving a disabled veteran at Atos’s Ipswich offices.
Elly Everett was told she could not enter the Norwich building to accompany her husband Glen for his work capability assessment because she uses a wheelchair, even though she had attended her own test there several days earlier.
Because she was unable to accompany her husband, his assessment had to be cancelled.
Glen Everett said: “We felt humiliated. The receptionist said she has to turn people away every day. How do they think we feel? We feel like second-class citizens.”
The protesters will also be highlighting the case of Dene Carter, who says that an Atos doctor caused him “horrific pain” by forcing his leg into “places it can’t go by itself” to prove that he was “fit for work”.
Carter, whose injuries were caused through active service in the infantry, was subsequently declared “fit for work”, even though a separate assessment by Atos for his war pension found he was “not capable of work”.
He said: “I get the feeling the doctors are under pressure to test people to get them off benefits.”
Harrison said: “How can an ex-serviceman be treated in this way? How can one system declare him fit for work (knowing that medical investigation was still ongoing) and the other declare him unfit for work? Which assessment would you trust?”
No-one from Atos Healthcare was available to comment.
22 March 2012