A DOWNHAM man who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), leaving him unable to work, is on hunger strike after his benefits were taken away.
George Rolph, 60, of Capstone Road, has been considered unfit for work many times before, but following an assessment by Atos Healthcare last month, he was - he says wrongly - deemed capable.
This means he is no longer entitled to the benefits that were keeping him alive.
Work capability assessment tests, carried out by Atos on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), were introduced in 2008 and measure a person's entitlement to employment and support allowance by determining whether they are fit for employment.
Since then the media has increasingly reported failings in the assessment of mental health.
Last week, two people with mental health problems won a legal challenge against the tests, while two weeks ago a GP who used to work for Atos claimed they were designed to incorrectly assess claimants as being fit for work.
The condition that affects Mr Rolph is the result of years of physical and mental abuse at the hands of a number of women.
He suffers from bouts of depression and frequently experiences terrifying flashbacks that leave him in tears, and although he has tried to work he finds it too difficult.
He told News Shopper: "It is horrendous. Triggers (for flashbacks) can be anything related to the abuse I received.
"They are caused by external factors, it can be anything. Routine is incredibly hard to maintain.
"I can't be alone in a room with a women."
On Monday (May 20), to highlight his plight and the plight of people like him, he went on hunger strike, and has had no food or fluids since.
Mr Rolph said: "The way I see it I won't be able to pay rent anymore so I'll to be thrown out onto the streets, and I don't know what I'll do then.
"If I'm going to die I might as well do it in the comfort of my own home, by my choosing.
"Since the government brought Atos in they have inflicted misery and death on too many people with their heartless acts."
His aim is to raise enough awareness to get Atos stopped, and to have them held to account.
He said: "What Atos is doing is horrendous. The system they have got is done with computers.
"It is robotic. It is not personal and it does not take into account individual circumstances.
"For them it is just about ticking boxes, and you can't do that with people who suffer from mental health problems."
He added: "It is my life. I shall end it in my way while I still have that choice.
"I will not be murdered by savage unfeeling suits in Westminster and the civil service."
An Atos Healthcare spokesperson said: "While our doctors, nurses and physiotherapists are frequently targeted by those opposed to the employment and support allowance and work capability assessments, Atos Healthcare does not set the criteria or make the decisions about whether someone is entitled to benefits.
"Our trained professionals go to every effort to carry out their carefully defined role with compassion and sensitivity for the concerns and pressures that can be felt by those being assessed.
"Atos Healthcare joins those who have done so already in urging Mr Rolph to end his hunger strike."
A DWP spokesperson said: "The work capability assessment assesses someone’s capacity for work and looks at what a person can do because we know conditions affect different people in different ways.
"A decision on whether someone is well enough to work is taken following a thorough face to face assessment and after consideration of all the supporting medical evidence provided by the claimant.
"We have made considerable improvements to the work capability assessment to make it fairer and more effective.
"We encourage people to provide as much medical evidence as possible when they apply for employment and support allowance. If someone disagrees with the outcome of their claim, they have the right to submit new evidence and appeal."
Mr Rolph has been taking fluids since Sunday (May 26). He is still not eating food, and intends to continue that way.