HUDDERSFIELD demonstrators have stepped up their campaign against the Paralympic Games sponsors.
Police were called after campaigners occupied the jobcentre on Southgate yesterday in protest against Atos Healthcare.
The French company won a £110m Government contract to assess 2.6 million incapacity benefit and employment support allowance claimants to determine if they are able to work.
But campaigners claim Atos is unfairly targeting sick and disabled people such as cancer sufferer Cecilia Burns, who died last week.
The 51-year-old from Strabane in Northern Ireland had her employment support allowance cut by £30 a week in February after Atos decided she was fit to work – even though she was still being treated for breast cancer at the time.
Thirteen protestors began an occupation of Huddersfield JobCentre at 1pm yesterday.
Anna Marie Byrne, who took part in the demonstration, told the Examiner: “The Paralympics, which Atos sponsors, are showing publicly that disabled people are normal people, not fakers and scroungers as they have been recently portrayed.
“Hopefully this will be a changing point and Atos will come under close scrutiny as to their methods.”
Fellow protestor June Jones also drew attention to the Paralympic Games, which are taking place in London.
“Just last week David Cameron said how wonderful the Paralympics are because they are changing the perception of disabled people,” said the Marsden woman.
“But it’s the Government that is creating this image. They want to remove any idea that the state should support the weak.
“The Government is giving Atos millions of pounds of our money and trying to bring down the benefits bill – it stinks.”
The protestors left the jobcentre at 1.55pm after four police officers entered the building and asked them to disperse.
Protestor Ian Brooke said: “We didn’t want to cause a breach of the peace so we left when the police asked.”
Yesterday’s protest came a week after a demonstration outside the jobcentre as part of a national campaign against Atos.
The company could not be reached for comment yesterday.
However, in an earlier statement about last week’s demonstrations, an Atos spokesman said: “We fully respect people’s right to peaceful protest and we understand 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 the service that we provide is as highly professional and compassionate as it can be.
“We do this through a constant programme of training and education for our staff, a rigorous recruitment process for healthcare professionals and through continual work with the Government, disability rights groups, healthcare professionals and those going through the process on the ground.
“At Atos we have proudly supported the Paralympics movement for a decade. We hope people will view the games as we do, as an opportunity to celebrate sporting achievements.”