Sick and disabled benefit claimants took to the streets nationwide today to protest against welfare privateers Atos Healthcare.
Activists picketed outside Atos offices in Birmingham, Bristol, Chatham, Chester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, Plymouth, Sheffield and York, condemning the company's controversial business model.
Events in Brighton struck a tragi-comic note - activists staged a pantomime performance entitled Dick Whittington & His Work Capability Assessment - followed by a solemn march in honour of people who have died from stress or mental illness as a result of failed assessments.
Brighton Benefits Campaign co-ordinator Pip Tindall said that the pantomime was "pretty ridiculous" - but so was the test sheet they based it on.
"You don't have to change the wording much. it's so nonsensical and surreal," she said.
The £100 million-a-year scheme, which began trials late last year, pays private contractor Atos Origin to examine claimants using a computerised points-based programme.
Those awarded less than 15 points are automatically deemed "fit for work" and lose their right to incapacity benefit.
The trials have seen a 70 per cent drop in full benefits paid and a 30 per cent drop in "unfit for work" assessments.
Critics say that the criteria make unrealistic demands on people in physical pain or suffering "invisible illnesses."
Mental health campaigners say that episodes of lost or altered consciousness rate only six points on the programme, while "uncontrollable" aggressive or uninhibited behaviour still rates just nine points.
Meanwhile, demonstrators in the capital rallied outside the British Medical Association annual recruitment fair, where Atos reps were busy hiring their controversial "disability assessors."
The demonstrations follow an open letter sent to the British Medical Journal and Royal College of Nursing this week, urging an end to their professional relationships with Atos.
Signed by more than 100 beneficiaries' and mental health groups, the letter cited media reports of "dire consequences" arising from the company's decisions.
"We are outraged that Atos is profiting from denying those of us who are sick or disabled the benefits we need to survive and maintain our level of health.
"The stress of the Atos examinations has hastened deaths and caused a number of people to commit suicide. For many others, it is exacerbating their already fragile health conditions."
The associations' involvement lent credibility to a potentially lethal practice, they said.
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