New hope over disability centre

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New hope over disability centre

 

People with disabilities who have been stopped from attending Norwich’s assessment centre for disabled people because it does not have suitable access could be in line for good news.

 

The Norwich Evening News can today reveal that an announcement over a new location for assessments to be carried out is expected “soon”.

Campaigners have been protesting for more than three years over the assessment centre, which is upstairs at St Mary’s House in Duke Street, Norwich.

People in wheelchairs or who have restricted mobility are advised that they must be able to walk downstairs from where the assessments are carried out in the event of an emergency, as the lift would be out of use.

Now a spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said: “We are working to secure a new location for the assessment centre in Norwich and hope to be able to make an announcement soon.”

The statement comes after Prime Minister David Cameron announced Justin Tomlinson, MP for North Swindon, as the new minister for disabled people.

The situation had been described as “wholly unacceptable” by one of his predecessors, Mike Penning, who last June said he would be looking at taking action to leave St Mary’s House.

Jade Garwood, 29, from Wymondham, who suffers from ME and has had difficulties in getting to St Mary’s House, said she was delighted to hear there could soon be some good news.

She said: “I’m so pleased. If they were to do that it would be epic and would save a lot of hassle – not only for myself but for other people.”

Mark Harrison, chief executive of Equal Lives, a human rights group which has been campaigning for action on the situation and holding regular protests outside it, said the announcement over a new location could not come soon enough.

He said: “This has been going on for well over three years now and ministers for disabled people have made announcements before so if this is real then great. It’s about time too.”

But whether a new location is soon announced or not, Mr Harrison said the group was still planning to hold a further demonstration at St Mary’s

House on June 1, together with Disabled People Against the Cuts Norfolk, in protest against the situation and “inappropriate” work capability assessments which, he said, destroy disabled people’s lives.

People in wheelchairs or who have restricted mobility are advised that they must be able to walk downstairs from where the assessments are carried out in the event of an emergency, as the lift would be out of use.

They had previously been offered appointments at home or at assessment centres in areas including King’s Lynn, Cambridge and Ipswich as an alternative.

The DWP spokesman said this would continue until a new centre is revealed. A deal to use ground-floor rooms fell through in February this year, eight months after the government finally agreed to take action.

New private company Maximus Health Services, has taken over responsibility for work capability assessments from Atos. No-one from the company was available for comment.

Opinion: Action must follow words on new centre

It is a situation that would be laughable were it not so serious – disabled people expected to undertake work assessments at a centre in the city with no disabled access.

But after more than three years of campaigning it looks like there might be an end in sight to the ongoing saga at St Mary’s House in Duke Street with an announcement over a new, hopefully more suitable, location for assessments to be carried out expected “soon”.

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