The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is under fire again. This time, because disabled people forced to attend its work capability assessments (WCA) can’t even access one of its centres. But unfortunately, this type of inanity from the DWP is not uncommon.
As the Daily Gazette reported, the DWP’s outsourced centre for health and disability assessments in Colchester is where disabled people are sent for their WCA. The assessments decide if sick and disabled people are ill or impaired enough to receive their benefit entitlements.
But the centre in Colchester has a problem: to get in, you have to get past a five-inch step at the front door.
If disabled people can’t navigate the step, they have to use an intercom and wait for a member of staff to support them. But one disabled woman has spoken out about this.
Ali Wilkin told the Daily Gazette she lives with an autoimmune condition “which causes chronic pain and fatigue so being lifted aggravates her condition”. Due to her condition, she can only travel for two hours at a time. She says that the intercom system is not “reasonable” for someone with her impairments. Wilkin also says the alternative of travelling to a centre in either Chelmsford or Ipswich is not suitable either.
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She raised the accessibility problems with the DWP. It then offered her an appointment around 25 miles away in Chelmsford, six months later. But due to her condition, this was not suitable. So, the department advised her to use a different entrance into its Colchester building. But before she could even attend, the DWP declared her fit-for-work. Wilkin says she now has to rely on family for financial support, and is appealing the DWP’s decision.
Long-term this isn’t just about Colchester, it’s about disabled people’s difficulties in accessing the benefits system. I’m part of a community who have been under attack by government policy for a long time.
Aside from the DWP casting Wilkin adrift, the issue of accessibility to its assessment centres is nothing new.
A widespread problem
In 2016, Disabled Go News reported that disabled people couldn’t access the Croydon assessment centre, as wheelchair users were banned from using the lifts. The DWP’s centre in Glasgow has also come in for repeated criticism, with one disabled woman reportedly having to drag herself up the stairs due to the lack of accessibility. Meanwhile, a Freedom of Information request (FOI) revealed the Birmingham assessment centre is not fully accessible either. Historically, there were also reports of the centres in Luton and Norwich being inaccessible.
A DWP spokesperson told the Daily Gazette:
We’re absolutely committed to ensuring disabled people get the right support that they need.
All our centres meet legal accessibility requirements. But we go further and can arrange to meet at more accessible sites nearby or discuss whether a home visit would be appropriate.
The DWP: disabling disabled people
Regardless of the excuses, you’d think the DWP would get the basics of supporting disabled people right. But when it and successive governments have been accused by the UN of committing “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights, it is probably not going to bother with the ‘simple’ things.
The social model of disability states that it’s not a person’s impairment that makes them disabled. It is society, its attitudes and its restrictions that are disabling. So when the government body tasked with supporting disabled people is actually disabling them, you know the system is broken.
– Sign the petition to make the Colchester centre accessible.
– Find out more about DPAC’s day of action against Universal Credit on 18 April.
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