Staffordshire students campaign against disabled benefit cuts
DOZENS of students armed with placards have launched a campaign against benefit cuts for disabled people.
Protesters held a demonstration yesterday about private firm Atos being awarded a £400 million contract to test whether disabled people should continue receiving the money.
The firm, which runs assessments designed to encourage people to move off benefits and into employment, was awarded the contract by the Government to look into residents’ Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claims.
But campaigners from the Disabled Students’ Forum group of Staffordshire University’s Students’ Union claim the decision has already had a major impact on some residents.
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Group chairman Caroline Butterwick, who led the protest outside the Jobcentre Plus assessment centre in Festival Park, Etruria, said: “People are being forced off the benefits they desperately need.
“People like late-stage cancer patients or those who have limited mobility or mental health problems are being kicked off ESA and these are the people who need the most support.
“For some people, the decision whether they continue to receive these benefits is the difference between life and death.”
The 20-year-old, of Hanley, added: “The decision to give Atos the contract is wrong.
“People have been forced to tears by the company’s work capability assessments and they should be scrapped.
“They come at a huge cost to the welfare and dignity of thousands of disabled people.”
The protest follows a demonstration by hundreds of disabled people and anti-cuts activists who occupied the lobby of the Department of Work and Pensions office in Whitehall in August.
Fellow forum member Kiel Gibson, aged 20, from Stoke, said: “We formed this group a month or so ago with the aim of fighting issues like this one.
“We are doing all we can to show we are against this.
“These people are given those benefits to help them to live, it’s as plain and simple as that and nobody should be given the right to take them away.”
Representatives from Hanley-based Disability Solutions and the North Staffs Pensioners Convention turned out to support the campaign.
Convention member Alex Shaw, aged 72, of Longton, said: “Some disabled people struggle to deal with their own problems without having to be put through these assessments and potentially learn that they have lost their money.
“It’s a disgrace what they have to go through.”
Mr Shaw added: “While I am not directly affected by this, whose to say it won’t affect my children or grandchildren or my friends’ families.
“The Government have cutback on so much.
“I don’t understand why they feel the need to target the vulnerable, disabled and the elderly.”