POLICE were called to a protest against Atos, the organisation which assesses benefits claimants, outside Jobcentre Plus in Princes Street yesterday.
Security staff at the Jobcentre spoke with campaigners about the chalk they had used on the pavement outside the premises, with messages of anger towards Atos and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
The guards washed the chalk away and called the police, who attended but took no action against the small band of banner-holders, who were within their rights to protest.
Around 10 people attended the rally, many of whom had been affected directly by the decisions of Atos, which has come under fire for its type of assessment and drive to lower the number of benefit claimants on the DWP’s books.
Ministers last week announced Atos’s contract with the Government to conduct fit-to-work assessments would be terminated early.
The contract was supposed to run until August 2015.
Those campaigning in Swindon yesterday said it was important to press home the message it should not be used again, nor should it be allowed to continue its assessments for Personal Independence Payment, a separate welfare benefit.
Angel Grace, 42, a carer of West Swindon, lead the protests. Two of her sons, aged 17 and 18, have disabilities, which she does not want to be under threat of Atos and its system of assessment for Employment and Support Allowance.
“It’s not just the unemployed who are being affected now, it’s professional workers,” she said.
“Atos are still getting other Government contracts and it needs to be stopped. Those contracts need to go to the NHS and to the GPs who know us and our medical history.
“I’m worried my sons won’t get the support they need. One of them has already been through the fit-to-work assessments.
“He wants to work, but he wants the support he needs. He has curvature of the spine and it’s deteriorating. He did the assessment two weeks ago and we are still hoping he will receive money so he can work part-time.”
A spokesman for Wiltshire Police said: “Police attended the Jobcentre at 10.43am, where there were two or three pickets found to be in order. The protestors were found to be behaving themselves and were spoken to about drawing on the floor and walls in chalk.
“They were given words of advice to be conscious of what they were doing and what they could be done for.”
Those protesting hope their actions will raise awareness of Atos and their assessments.
Claimants applying for Employment and Support Allowance must undergo a Work Capability Assessment to see how their illness or disability affects their ability to work.
Atos has been criticised over the number of these assessments it has made as well as for lengthy waiting times.
Last summer, the DWP identified ‘significant quality failures’ in the written reports Atos produced after tests and put a plan for improvement in place.
But in February, the DWP said standards had declined unacceptably.