Last year I started a petition, calling on the Government to stop asking people with disabilities to travel unfair distances to medical assessments when claiming health-related benefits and to stop asking them to pay for letters from their GP to prove they need a home assessment.
With the help of the organisation 38 degrees, I started an online petition which led to a meeting with government officials – Louise Everett deputy director of employment and support allowance policy, and John Andrae, assistant to secretary of state Amber Rudd – at the time of presenting the petition, I had 208,922 signatures.
I was told there that people should not be asked to travel more than 90 minutes to any assessment.
I gave them examples of individual cases of people who did not want to be named because of the stigma around disability and benefits, such as a friend of mine who was asked to travel from Charlton to Southend for a personal independence payment assessment. Another man contacted 38 degrees to say he had to do a two-hour journey including a 30-minute walk using a Zimmer frame.
Even worse, one man said he had severe arthritis and had to travel miles and when he got to the assessment center he could not walk and there was no wheelchair.
I have had similar problems – when I put in my postcode in the website of the contractors used to conduct these assessments, it says my nearest centre is Romford, Essex, Wood Green, north London, or Marylebone for employment support allowance. These are clearly more than a 90-minute trip, especially if I was expected to travel to Essex.
Taxis are often offered to people to help them get to meetings but not everybody is well enough to travel, even with the assistance of a taxi.
It has been agreed that we will have a further meeting in a couple of months, to get an update on matters.
On March 5, the secretary of state for work and pensions, Amber Rudd, made a speech on disability and welfare reform.
It was agreed that trials will be announced to streamline assessments and combine both personal independence payment and employment support allowance into one integrated service from 2021 and to stop asking people for the same information at different times and face multiple face to face assessments which are stress inducing.
Amber Rudd said: “Progress has been made but we need to close the gap between our intentions and disabled people’s experiences.
“The changes I am setting out, including stopping unnecessary reassessments for disabled pensioners are a step forward in improving quality of life in the UK for 14 million people.”
MP Rudd went on to add that the Government needs to be guided by disabled people and that she hopes to simplify the assessment process for millions of people claiming health-related benefits reducing the need to submit information multiple times.
According to the charity Scope, disabled people spend more on essential goods such as heating, insurance and therapies.
A disabled person faces extra costs of about £583 a month. On average, a disabled person has extra costs which are equivalent to almost half their income not including housing costs.
Chief executive of Scope, Mark Hodgkinson, said: “ It is right the secretary of state seeks to address some of the barriers faced by disabled people but far more work is needed before disabled people are truly equal.”
It is clear from my petition and figures produced by Scope and other charities that things need to change and there needs to be a much bolder reform.
Disabled people need to be listened to and their voice heard and they should be involved in and on policy-making or decisions that affect their lives.
Also, it should not just be people of pensionable age that do not face repeated assessments, it should be anyone with a long-standing chronic health condition that is not like to get better. This will also save the Government millions of pounds.