In 2011, the MP for Croydon Central, Gavin Barwell, described a situation in which a disability assessment centre in his constituency had severely restricted access for the disabled as “ridiculous” and ought to be changed. “We need a solution,” the Tory MP said then, promising to do something about it.
This week, it has been reported by a local newspaper that the very same assessment centre, still located on the first floor of the same building, is still turning away Barwell’s constituents when they arrive in a wheelchair for the benefits assessment which his Government insists upon. One victim of this “ridiculous” situation has told of how she felt “humiliated” and was reduced to tears by the whole farcical process.
Despite Barwell’s promises of action five years ago, the situation remains much the same.
Probably the only thing to have changed in the intervening years is the name of the agency which is supervising the assessment tests on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions. Oh, and that Barwell has finally been given a promotion to ministerial status within the Conservative Government.
In 2011, disability assessments in Croydon were being run by ATOS. Then, it had offices on the first floor of Stephenson House on Cherry Orchard Road, a location which has no disabled parking spaces, and where taxis are prevented from pulling up adjacent to the building by bollards.
As we reported at the time, the agency “claims that disabled people are not allowed to use the lifts because of ‘health and safety issues’.” Then, as now, it was 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.
“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,” Barwell said at that time, promising to take the matter up with the minister responsible then, Chris Grayling.
A “stop gap”, eh? So much for Barwell’s effectiveness as an MP.Five years on, and while notorious ATOS has been replaced by Maximus as the agency administering the disability assessments, they continue to use the very same East Croydon offices, and are using a very similar form of words to justify the lack of access to their office for the very people it is supposed to be serving.
The situation was highlighted this week in a report in the Croydon Guardian.
It cited as an example the case of Croydon resident Sandra Hall, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and cannot walk unaided.
Just as they were doing in 2011, officials at the centre still refuse to allow wheelchair users access to the building’s lifts. “The centre can be accessed by lift but if an emergency evacuation of the building is required, such as a fire alarm, the lift cannot be used. There are 42 steps to the ground floor,” they said.
“If you think that you would have difficulty going down the stairs in the event of an emergency or would need assistance from another person, please ring the appointments helpdesk number on your appointment letter at least two days before your appointment date so we can ensure that we provide support for you on the day.”
As requested, Hall advised Maximus of her need to use a wheelchair. Yet when she arrived for her annual fitness-to-work evaluation appointment in July, Hall was advised to attend another centre, in Balham, a two-hour round-trip away.“I was absolutely fuming. I was crying because I thought they would stop my money because I couldn’t come, it was really upsetting,” Hall told the Croydon Guardian.
“I have never felt so humiliated and upset and disgusted in all my life. For a place that is meant to be for disabled people it is not really disabled-friendly.”
The careless and callous attitude towards the disabled, and the local Tory MP’s empty promises, are symptomatic of the Conservative Government’s attitude to some of the most vulnerable in society, as over the past six years, they have stripped them of a range of benefits, as well as their dignity.
Here’s a few examples:
- Iain Duncan-Smith, when Work and Pensions Secretary, called time on Britain’s system of Remploy factories, which provided subsidised and sheltered employment to disabled people.
- The £320 million Independent Living Fund was established in 1988 to give financial support to people with disabilities. It was scrapped on July 1 2015, with 18,000 often severely disabled people losing out by an average of £300 a week.
- Under the Tories, the DWP has reduced payments to some disabled people from a scheme designed to help them into work. The scheme cost £108 millionand helped 35,540 people, but has been capped on a per-used basis, hitting those with the more serious disabilities who received the most help. The single biggest users of the fund are people who have difficulty seeing and hearing.
- The Tories passed a £30 a week cut in disability benefits for some new claimants of Employment and Support Allowance.
- The Bedroom Tax disproportionately affects disabled people. Around two-thirds of those affected by the under-occupancy penalty are disabled.
And meanwhile, the “ridiculous” disability assessment centre in “ridiculous” Gavin Barwell’s constituency continues to humiliate the disabled by failing to provided accessible facilities.
Maybe he could start an online campaign about it?
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