July 29 2014 Latest news:
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
A minister will be told today that the scandal of a disability assessment centre with no wheelchair access is just not good enough.
MPs will take a catalogue of complaints about the way work capability assessments and personal independence payments are being handled in Norfolk to disability minister Mike Penning.
It comes as his department admitted it had no idea how much taxpayer money is being spent on taxi bills because of the assessment centre blunder.
MPs have branded the answer to the Evening News’ request for information “not good enough”, after the Department for Work and Pensions was unable to put a figure on transport costs.
Officials are trying to send Norwich disabled people, who have to be assessed before they can claim benefits, as far afield as Nottingham by taxi, and also to Ipswich and King’s Lynn.
In the latest twist to the two-and-a-half year saga, which disability campaigners claim is causing undue stress to vulnerable people, now those needing an assessment are being sent a map and told to travel by public transport.
In a letter to Norwich MP Simon Wright, Mr Penning said his department was compliant with the Equalities Act, but said any new assessment centres would have ground floor rooms.
But he said his department was not yet in a position to review the decision of relocating the Norwich Assessment Centre, after deciding to give the contract to another provider.
Mr Wright said: “It cannot be right that those in need of an assessment are sent on a nearly 90-mile round trip.”
Norwich MP Chloe Smith said: “The current situation is completely unacceptable. We hope to cut through DWP red tape and find a common sense solution to ensure our constituents have equality of access to assessment centres in Norwich”.
Mark Harrison, of the charity Equal Lives, said: “People are just tearing their hair out. This is unacceptable.
“This government is putting the profits of providers before the needs of disabled people.”
He added: “Iain Duncan Smith and the DWP need to be held to account. The DWP is a failing department.”
He also called for urgent action on the delays to personal independence payments.
He added: “The DWP promised us the PIP would work – it is clear that it is yet another cock-up by Iain Duncan Smith, Atos and Capita. We said it was just a cost-cutting exercise and we have been proved right.”