Walk on, walk on...
by Felix McHugh
Wed 3rd Oct 2012
In order to satisfy the “mobilising” descriptor on the Employment and Support Allowance a claimant has to convince the Health Care Professional (that’s an Atos nurse to you and me) that s/he cannot manage more than 200 metres without stopping due to significant discomfort. If a disabled person can manage between 100 and 200 metres that scores 6 points; 50 to 100 brings 9 but to be able to hit the magic 15 point mark the claimant must show that s/he is unable to manage 50 metres before significant discomfort (a concept undefined in the regulations but which means “noticeable pain” in my dictionary.)
Having recently received, for the umpteenth time in the last few weeks alone, a set of ESA appeal papers which include the Atos Nurse’s observation that the claimant walked “10 minutes from the bus stop to the assessment centre” I thought it might be a good idea to investigate how common it might be for a centre to be situated so far away from a bus stop that anyone who manages to make it to his/her examination has, by doing so, already ruled him/herself out of scoring any points for inability to mobilise. After all, it’s obvious that someone not who is not fit to work is less likely to be able to afford the cost of car ownership, not that it would be much help if they did since most centres not only lack disabled parking space but actually lack any public parking space at all.
So, it’s off to the Atos website we go.
There are an awful lot of assessment centres whose situation is described by Atos in terms of minutes rather than yards or metres from the bus stop. Whether “a 10 minute walk” refers to the walking pace of an able-bodied person or one who is limping, s huffling or hopping is not specified. Perhaps the most blunt description is the one for the Peterborough office, where the website simply states “no buses stop outside the assessment centre” and leave the claimants to sort it out for themselves. Visitors to Dolgellau, meanwhile, are simply advised to ring Traveline on 0870 6082608 .
Atos carries out its duties in some pretty quirky places . Several are listed as next to McDonald’s, near Primark, by a chip shop etc but there is definitely a mixed message involved in siting the Bootle office on the first floor of a pub and the Newport one beneath the Army Careers Office. Often the office seems deliberately to have been opened in the most difficult spot imaginable, so that in Barrow claimants are advised that “t he entrance is at the other end of the building ”, in Inverness “ the Assessment Centre is the last building on left hand side ”, in Wick it’s the “ last building on the left before the Bridge ” and in Bridgend, after having walked past the Jobcentre, followed the street to Dunraven Street past the memorial and the Post Office, nipped across to Caroline Street and followed it down to the end, left into Queen Street and turned right across the bridge over the river and walked down the ramp or the steps, anyone still able to move is informed that “ the assessment centre is at the far end of the building ”.
G ratifying as it is to find that Benbecula, Islay, Orkney and Shetland folk don’t have to catch a boat to attend their appointment, it seems remarkable that there is no office serving the people of Darlington, Watford, Scunthorpe, Torbay or Walsall, all of whose citizens are obliged t o travel to other towns if they are to experience the joy of losing their entitlement after a 20 minute interview and a perfunctory examination. In Lancashire the Oldham/Rochdale/Bury triangle is also assessment centre-free, requiring claimants to travel to Manchester, where they must “w alk through the car park and under the overhead walkway. The entrance to the assessment centre is in the far corner ” .
In Lincoln claimants are asked to cross three roads and take a walk by the canal. In Liverpool Atos’s directions state that the bus stop is in James Street, 300 yards away. In Preston a 400 yard walk comes after a stroll through a subway while in Tredegar the centre is down a hill, across a roundabout and then another 200 yards further ahead. Disabled claimants in Swansea are advised: “ Take the bus to Quadrant bus station then ask for directions to the police station – around a half mile walk away ” . And you can probably imagine the questioning that begins as a claimant staggers into the Hereford office. “Did you come by bus today? You did? OK, so you got off at the Hightown shops, turned left into Broad Street, right into West Street and then left into Aubrey Street, yes? Then you crossed Aubrey Street and went under the arch, turned left into the car park and walked up the ramp to the centre? And yet you claim to have degenerative disc disease affecting your mobility?”
My favourite three sets of directions follow in reverse order. They are as helpful, in their own way, as the Tribunals Service’s proposed method of getting to Sheffield Magistrate’s Court (“get off the train at Sheffield station and walk to the Magistrate’s Court”) but the additional effort involved and the sheer stupidity of expecting a physically-challenged benefit claimant to undertake these journeys makes each, to my mind a modern classic:
Third Place: Leicester
“ When you get off the bus at the station come out and turn right and head towards Matalan. Keep on the left hand side of the pavement and turn left onto Gravel Street. Carry on walking straight up the road and you will see the clock tower in front of you. Cross the road and head towards the clock tower, with Clarke's on your left and HSBC on your right. Walk down Humberstone Gate, where you will then come to Primark on your left and New Look on your right. Cross over the road which is Charles Street. Keep on the left side of the pavement and walk up towards the train station. Walk past the shops and past a British Heart Foundation shop. Continue straight and turn left just before the Ramada Encore hotel. This is Halford Street. Walk past the Curveside Cafe and the key cutting shop and cross the road. In front of you will be a closed down shop and just after that is the assessment centre. ”
“ From Rail / Bus Station: On leaving the rail station and passing through the bus station you will come out onto Eldon Street. Proceed left along Eldon Street until you reach Mayday Green. Take this road until you reach Cheapside. Turn left into Cheapside and continue until you reach the Alhambra Shopping Centre. Pass through the centre and come out onto Westway. Cross Westway by pedestrian crossing or underpass. Turn right along Westway and continue for approximately 50 yards, then turn left up incline to reach Joseph Locke House on top of the hill”.
Anyone familiar with the hill in question will appreciate just what hard work it would be for anyone, regardless of fitness, to walk to the top of it, but there is still a clear champion 30 or 40 miles away:
Winner (Gold Medal): Mansfield
“ Turn right off the bus and walk down the slope at the far end of the bus station. Follow the dual carriageway, which is Belvedere Street. Carry on, under the Railway Bridge past the entrance to the railway station. At the next set of traffic lights turn left, walk approximately 200 yards to the St. Peters Retail Park (you’ll see the ‘NEXT’ store). Go under the underpass, turn left and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) building will be to the side of you.
Information to note:
Please note that this assessment facility is located on the fourth floor. The assessment centre can be accessed by lift but if an emergency evacuation of the building is required, such as a fire alarm, the lift cannot be used. There are 64 steps to the ground floor ” .
And the very best of luck!