KEN LEE, our Town Hall reporter, on a remarkable result in a David v Goliath contest
Labour councillors in Waddon were today celebrating victory with disability campaigners, after they managed to halt plans by the Department of Work and Pensions from locating a mobility assessment centre at what one described as a “cruelly inaccessible” location just off the A23.
The DWP wanted to open the assessment centre on Whitestone Way, in the New South Quarter housing development. The proposed centre is 400 metres from the nearest bus stop and nearly 300 metres to the closest tram stop, which would have made it very difficult for disabled people to attend assessments.
Miss an assessment appointment, and claimants risk being “sanctioned”, and having their benefits stopped. But several disabled people said that if they had walked the distance from the bus or tram stop to the assessment centre, then they would have been instantly failed by DWP assessors and also lost their benefits.
This was described by Andrew Pelling, one of the Waddon councillors, as “a cruel trick to set up applicants to fail”.
Pelling, together with his fellow ward councillors Robert Canning and Joy Prince, and backed by Jeremy Corbyn’s favourite campaign group DPAC – Disabled People Against Cuts – and the Croydon Mobility Forum, were today advised that the planning application on behalf of Atos (the DWP’s contractors) had been withdrawn.
“It feels like David’s managed to beat Goliath,” one delighted campaigner told Inside Croydon.
According to an official statement from DPAC: “The application for an Atos assessment centre has been withdrawn after 34 objections to it due to poor transport links which would have made it increasingly difficult for disabled people to get to for assessments.”
Atos’ contract with the DWP does not have long to run, and they will now continue at their Church Street address near Croydon Minster, which DPAC says is also unsatisfactory.
“Atos plan to continue with the current assessment centre in Croydon which is inaccessible for disabled people to travel to and access,” DPAC said.
“The current centre is on the first floor, inaccessible and poorly serves people in Merton, Bromley and across London. We need an assessment centre with good transport links and fully accessible for all disabled people and therefore the fight continues.”
Pelling says that the next task is to lobby the DWP to get contractors bidding for a new contract to find the best available accessible accommodation.
In a letter to Amber Rudd, the DWP Secretary of State, the Waddon councillors suggested alternative locations on London Road, served by six bus routes and with stops close by.
According to a statement posted on the ward councillors’ Facebook group, Pelling and his colleagues did not have the full support of Croydon Council in their battle on behalf of disability rights.
While Pelling thanked council cabinet members Jane Avis and Stuart King, as well as planning committee chair Toni Letts, for their support on the matter, he also wrote, “I am pleased that I resisted five approaches from the council to withdraw my objection.”
The councillor declined to comment further when approached by Inside Croydon.
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As much as I hate Atos and the DWP, where they say in the article “if they had walked the distance….. They would have failed and lost their benefits..” I’m sorry, but if you CAN walk that distance then yuu should be assessed as such. How many people are admitting that they are lying in their assessments to get higher benefit levels?
There’s a big difference between me walking 400m in five minutes without breaking step and it taking my friend half an hour on crutches and stopping every few paces. We both walked the distance, but you’re OK about denying my friend benefits?