Protesters will gather outside the Exeter Assessment Centre today, in demonstration against the Department of Work and Pensions’ (DWP) continued use of IT firm Atos to carry out fitness-to-work tests.
Organisers claim that the protest is one of over 140 nationwide and is in response to claims that the company have deemed thousands of sick and disabled people as ‘fit for work’.
The tests assess the eligibility of individuals to receive Employment Support Allowance and Incapacity Benefits. However, the company have recently been at the centre of criticism from both MPs and protesters, who argue that their tests are unfit for purpose.
Protesters are now demanding that these assessment tests be carried out by NHS professionals, rather than Atos, who describe themselves as “business technologists.”
More than 600,000 appeals have been lodged against the decisions made since the inception of the system, with four in ten decisions being overturned.
Controversial cases have included a Scottish man who has yet to be assessed by the company, despite being diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer six months ago.
The firm are currently contracted to continue assessments until 2015. However, a leaked document obtained by The Guardian suggests that the government may already be preparing to part company with the firm, amid recent public anger over its failures. The government will apparently allow competitors to work within the existing system, until they take over fully in 2015.
The Exeter demonstration forms just one of 144 protests nationally, and will begin at 11am outside the Assessment Centre on Harrier Way. It also works alongside an online protest, which organisers hope will reach 100,000 signatures.
It is not the first time the issue has been addressed in Exeter. A previous demonstration was held in the University of Exeter Forum in December 2012, in opposition to Atos having a careers stand within the building.
Tegan Hedley, News Teambookmark me