Belfast Telegraph

Crowd voices Atos anger

Donna Deeney

By Donna Deeney

A cancer patient who had her disability allowance cut and was told she was fit to work was buried just hours before a protest rally against benefit cuts.

Cecilia Burns had her Employment Support Allowance reduced by £30-a-week in March this year, even though she was still undergoing treatment for breast cancer which included surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Mrs Burns died on Monday and her funeral took place in Strabane yesterday morning.

She was remembered at a demonstration against the Government-appointed body, Atos, set up to assess people like her who are receiving benefits because their disability prevents them from working.

At the time that she was told she was capable of working, Mrs Burns, who had worked all her life before her cancer diagnosis, described the new test used to assess people's ability to work as “a joke”.

The Londonderry rally was held beneath the Paralympic outdoor screen in the city centre in protest against the sponsorship of the Paralympics by Atos, which was described by social activist Eamonn McCann as “hypocritical”.

He said: “It is grotesque that Atos is sponsoring the Paralympics at the same time as it is being used by the Government to cut disability benefits.

“Cecilia Burns from Strabane died this week after being told that she was fit for work, and the

same thing happened to a woman in Creggan whose family could see that she was not going to be alive at Christmas-time and they were right.

“Everyone knows it is the most vulnerable that are being hit hard by these cuts.

“Atos didn't make up these cuts but they are doing the dirty work of the Government, and asking them politely is not going to make them change.”

Echoing the call for public protests, Kathleen Bradley, a Benefits Adviser with Dove House resource centre in Derry, added: “These medical assessments are designed so that no one can pass them and what Atos is asking people to do is outrageous.

“We need to stand together and say ‘No, enough is enough, we can't take any more cuts’.” Following the speeches, the rally of around 50 people walked to the Derry offices of Atos chanting anti-cuts slogans.

A spokeswoman for Atos said: “We fully respect people’s right to peaceful protest and we understand that this is a highly emotive issue.

“We do not make decisions on people’s benefit entitlement or on welfare policy, but we will continue to make sure that the service we provide is as highly professional and compassionate as it can be.

“At Atos we have proudly supported the Paralympic movement for a decade. We hope people will view the Games, as we do, as an opportunity to celebrate sporting achievements,” she added.

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