PROTESTERS in Bournemouth joined a national action against the private firm that carries out the government’s fitness-for-work tests.

The Bournemouth and Poole Anti-Cuts Coalition gathered outside Jobcentre Plus in Cotlands Road as part of a series of national demonstrations being held this week to tie in with the start of the Paralympics, which the company is sponsoring.

Critics say the Working Capability Assessments carried out by Atos on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions are “consistently failing” by passing people as fit to work when in fact they are in “dire need” of support.

Campaigners also say that appeals against wrong decisions cost £50million a year and that the harshness of the test masks a “desire to reduce the welfare bill at any cost”.

Speaking at the demonstration on Tuesday, August 28, Shelley Wilson, from Bournemouth and Poole Anti-Cuts Coalition, said: “It’s to try to raise awareness among the public about who Atos are and what they do.

“There are 32 people a week who die when they have been judged as fit for work.”

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 that 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.”

A government spokesman added: “It's disappointing that a small number of organisations are protesting against sponsorship of the Paralympic Games, which is an opportunity to showcase the talents of disabled people and act as a catalyst for our sporting talents of the future.”