PROTESTORS including councillors and residents took part in a national day of demonstrations against Atos, the benefits assessment agency.

The group assembled yesterday outside Atos's town centre based Tannery Court assessment centre where disabled people are reviewed for their capability to work.

Among those protesting was Clr Kevin Bennett (LAB - Fairfield and Howley) and said: "We are calling on the government to stop this degrading policy and introduce a fairer transparent system that restores dignity to the sick and disabled.

“Over 40 per cent of cases where people have been deemed fit to work, and had their benefits cut have had their appeals upheld. However the appeals process can take months while some of the most vulnerable disabled are plunged into poverty.

“There have also been questions over the application of their tests, with claims that people are being wrongly recommended for work, or put through stressful medical interviews.

“The tests do not take into consideration the complex nature of peoples illnesses, particularly for those with mental illness and this has led, in some cases, to those with long-term degenerative and terminal illnesses, such as Parkinson's and cancer, being told they are fit for work."

A spokesman for ATOS said: "“We absolutely respect people’s right to peaceful protest and we are well aware that being assessed for benefit entitlement can be a difficult experience.

"However, lobbying against Atos Healthcare will have no impact on welfare policy.

"It is not, nor has it ever been, the role of Atos Healthcare to make decisions on who can or cannot receive benefits.

"We carry out assessments following strict guidelines and criteria written by Government.

"For the parts of the process we are responsible for, we work hard to treat people with care and respect and constantly improve our service.”