Any reasonable person watching the local BBC television news on Friday night would have been right to squirm with embarrassment, and some shame, when the lead item demonstrated how the offices of a government agency located on Croydon’s Cherry Orchard Road made it impossible for Sharron and Allan Price to fulfil the requirements to qualify for their disability benefits.
The TV news item stemmed from work done by the Croydon and Merton Citizens Advice Bureaux, and reported by the Croydon Guardian‘s Peter Truman.
Croydon resident Allan Price needs two sticks to be able to walk, while his wife, Sharron, uses a powered wheelchair. Under government rules, both are required to demonstrate that they are, indeed, disabled, to qualify for benefits.
But in Croydon, the ATOS-run agency that the Prices are required to report to has its offices on the first floor and it claims that disabled people are not allowed to use the lifts because of “health and safety issues”.
ATOS may be in breach of anti-discrimination law by not providing fully accessible facilities. Whoever authorised the opening of a benefits agency office with no access for the disabled has certainly failed the anti-stupidity test.
The outcome is a newspaper intro that said: “Wheelchair users have to climb a flight of stairs to prove they are disabled enough to get benefits at a centre in Croydon”.
The ATOS Healthcare’s Assessment Centre is on the first floor of Stephenson House and is the only place in the borough where disabled people can undertake the workplace capability assessments demanded so that they may continue to claim incapacity benefit.
Gavin Barwell, MP for Croydon Central, called the situation “ridiculous”.
“We need to find a way to make that place fully accessible or find a new place. It works as a stop gap but not in the long term. We need a solution. It is ridiculous,” Barwell said.
Barwell is taking the matter up with his government’s minister, Chris Grayling, so we will see how long it takes to get the situation rectified.
The office’s accessibility issues extend beyond the stairs/lift: outside, there is no disabled parking spaces, and even taxis are prevented from pulling up adjacent to the building by bollards.
“I was shocked when I pulled up in the taxi and I had to walk 50 yards to the door,” Allan Price told the local paper.
Extraordinarily, to compound the situation, ATOS even managed to put up a spokesman who had the brass neck to claim: “There is good wheelchair access at ATOS Healthcare’s Assessment Centre in Croydon.” Yeah, of course there is.
- Disabled benefit seekers banned from using lifts at Croydon assessment centre (victimsofatoscorruption.wordpress.com)
- The things they say (part 94): Councillor Dudley Mead (insidecroydon.com)
- Reports claim police to investigate council contracts (insidecroydon.wordpress.com)