How can it be that a disabled man needs to go on hunger strike just to get heard by Atos?

A man with physical disabilities and mental health issues is on hunger strike in Wales, after having his disability benefits cut.

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The Independent Online

When I hear the words 'hunger strike', I think of Gandhi and his friends in the struggle for Indian independence over 60 years ago.

When I hear the words 'hunger strike' I certainly don't think of first-world, Western countries like Wales, towards the end of 2012.

Yet today, as I type this article while sipping a hot cup of tea, there is a man in his thirties on hunger strike in Wales.

Christos Palmer has physical disabilities and mental health issues. He has been on hunger strike for three days. He plans to continue this until Friday 12 November.

So, why would a man with such serious personal health difficulties feels he needs to be taking such drastic action in a Western country in the 21 century?

The answer wouldn't surprise many sick or disabled people and carers. Christos Palmer is protesting against the actions of Atos Healthcare.

He is protesting because, like so many other sick and disabled people in recent times, he has received the result of his Work Capability Assessment from the Department for Work and Pensions. The assessment found Christos fit for work, and his disability benefits have been cut.

But far from taking the decision lying down, far from simply attempting to appeal, Christos Palmer is currently sitting outside Atos' Cardiff office, on hunger strike, leading a vigil against the company.

The vigil is intended to be peaceful. Christos says the protesters intend to shame the Atos workers into seeing the misery and pain they are causing, with the hope that they will leave the company, or even better, expose some of their dark secrets.

He said: "We also want to show the people attending this charade of a medical company that they are not alone in the struggle against this large multinational company."

More importantly, Christos says the protesters "want to show David Cameron, we're not prepared to be killed en masse, and we're willing to fight back."

Christos continues with a very sobering thought:

"During the five days of this protest, 50 disabled people will die."

I'm lucky enough never to have experienced a Work Capability Assessment, as I only claim Disability Living Allowance, which is not an unemployment benefit. However, Christos' situation has reminded me of a quote from Benjamin Franklin: "Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are."

I'm not personally affected by the actions of Atos Healthcare. However, I see myself first and foremost as a disabled person. This makes me part of a very special community. I'm outraged that one of my own is having to starve himself, to risk his own life, because of the actions of a large multinational company where few, if any, have the slightest bit of personal experience of disability. The worst thing about Christos’ situation is that if he makes it through the hunger strike alive and still loses his benefits, it is likely that he will continue to starve as a result of being left without enough money to survive. 

Tomorrow, America votes for its next President. Until yesterday, when I heard of Christos’ situation, I was waiting for the result of the election with a great deal of excitement and interest.

However, now that I know that one of my own will be starving for a week, it feels somehow wrong to care about who will have the most powerful job in the world on Wednesday morning.

Christos’ actions make my own problems seem so small. I now feel like the only thing I should care about is whether he will make it through the hunger strike alive.