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Two years on and Norwich’s disability assessment centre still does not have wheelchair access

15:42 19 February 2014

Mark Harrison, chief executive of Equal Lives, with other protesters outside the Atos assessment centre at St Mary

Mark Harrison, chief executive of Equal Lives, with other protesters outside the Atos assessment centre at St Mary's House. Picture: Denise Bradley

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Two years after it was first highlighted how Norwich’s assessment centre for disabled people does not have wheelchair access, campaigners have gathered to protest because nothing has changed.

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The centre is on the second floor of St Mary’s House, in Duke Street, and the work capability assessments to determine whether someone is “fit for work” are held by private company Atos on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

People in wheelchairs or who have restricted mobility are advised they must be able to walk downstairs in the event of an emergency, as the lift would be out of use. They are offered appointments at home or at assessment centres in areas including King’s Lynn, Cambridge and Ipswich as an alternative.

However, Equal Lives and Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC), Norfolk, which organised the protest outside St Mary’s House today, say people are being sent as far afield as Nottingham and Coventry for assessments.

Mark Harrison, chief executive of Equal Lives, said: “This Government is both uncaring and arrogant as far as disabled people are concerned. Despite having a duty in law and two years campaigning the DWP still refuses to act.

“It is a sick joke that disabled people can’t get into the building of the contracted service that assesses their ability to work.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “Where an assessment centre isn’t on the ground floor we endeavour to make this clear to people before they arrive for their appointment. If people have mobility problems, which may make evacuation in the event of a fire difficult, a home visit or an appointment at an alternative assessment centre is arranged.”

Campaigners across the country also took part in the protest because of concerns about the way the assessments are conducted.

Amanda Lewis, 51, from Beeston Regis, has a chronic pain condition and is appealing against the outcome of her assessment. She said: “They don’t use your words and you don’t see what they write about you. Then you get your assessment six months later and realise what they have written is wrong. By the time you appeal it the person who did the assessment can’t remember it. It’s an attack on your integrity to have so much written down and filed about you that’s so incorrect.”

A DWP spokesman said: “The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) was introduced in 2008 by the previous Government who appointed Atos the sole provider. “We have made - and continue to make - significant improvements to the WCA process since then.

“However we think it’s right to see what work people can do with the right support, rather than write people off on out-of-work sickness benefits as sometimes happened in the past.

“This Government is absolutely committed to supporting disabled people. In fact independent reports show how we are world leaders in support for disabled people with the UK’s spending on disability-related benefits a fifth higher than the EU average.”

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