Belfast Telegraph

Protests over new disability tests

By Brendan McDaid

New tests which have resulted in disabled people’s benefits being wiped out are causing widespread anxiety, it has been claimed.

Disabled people and their relatives were among those who attended protests in Londonderry’s city centre.

One of the protests, organised by the People Before Profit Alliance, was staged outside the offices of the ATOS Healthcare company, which has been tasked by the Government to reassess those on disability benefits.

Activists and families held up banners calling for a raft of welfare cuts to be scrapped, with healthcare workers and trade unionists also taking part.

One woman who has been through the Work Capability Assessment process said it had been a very stressful experience.

She said it was horrible that people who were blatantly disabled and previously diagnosed as such were being put under further stress by being re-evaluated.

Another woman, whose husband has yet to undergo the assessment, said: “A lot of those people on disability benefits can’t understand what it is about and what the letters say. Coming here is very, very stressful for them.

“I think it is terrible that they are taking the benefits off people who obviously need them and are entitled to them,” she continued.

“Never mind that there is no way most of these people could work, I don’t understand how they want people to go to work when there is no work to go to.”

Eamonn McCann, from People Before Profit, said that it is vital that people continue to protest over the welfare cuts.

Mr McCann, who has been in contact with numerous people affected by the changes, said: “The individual stories that are now beginning to come in a deluge — every one of them is a human tragedy and people are being driven to despair. There are people whose disability benefits have been cut or who are living in fear that they are about to be cut — people with disabilities shouldn't be put through the turmoil they are living through at the moment.”

He added: “The housing benefit situation means the young people in this town cannot afford to have a place of their own.

“How can people talk about Derry being buzzing and about optimism when you have situations like this? People need to mobilise and take to the streets.”

There was no response from ATOS yesterday.

However, a spokeswoman for the Department for Social Development claimed that there was “no target for the number of people to be found fit for work”.

She said: “The Work Capability Assessment aims to identify those who are capable of some form of work, and give them the help and support to get a job, while offering unconditional support to those who are unable to work.

“ATOS is contracted to provide independent medical advice to help the department make decisions on benefit eligibility.”

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