December 12 2013 Latest news:
Thursday, August 22, 2013
Jobsworths at a Norwich job centre have been slammed over their ‘cruel and degrading’ treatment of an ill woman who was refused use of the toilet.
Nicola Martin, 32, who has Crohn’s disease, carries a ‘Can’t Wait’ card because the condition means she might need to “use the toilet facilities urgently”.
Despite this, staff at the Kiln House Jobcentre in Pottergate told the mother-of-two she could not use their toilet because it was ‘against job centre policy’.
Mrs Martin’s case has now been taken up by South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon, who has written a letter of complaint to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who is responsible for job centres, for an explanation.
Bosses at the job centre have apologised for their actions.
Mr Bacon said: “I am appalled by the cruel and degrading treatment my constituent had to endure. Mrs Martin was left feeling humiliated and in pain because job centre staff either wouldn’t or couldn’t understand her needs.
“I am sure there are many compassionate job centre staff across Britain who do their utmost to help Crohn’s sufferers to preserve their dignity.
“However, I understand that Mrs Martin’s experience is far from unique and that many Crohn’s sufferers struggle to have their needs taken seriously by their local job centre.
“I have asked the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, to look in detail at this matter and issue further guidance to his department as to how it treats Crohn’s sufferers and other people who may need assistance while attending their local job centre.”
Mrs Martin, from Bayspole Road, Long Stratton, was diagnosed with Crohn’s a year ago and is unable to work because of her condition.
She attended the job centre on August 6 for an interview with a specialist advisor related to her allowances.
Two members of staff at the reception told her it was against policy to let customers use the toilets.
After her appointment, she complained to the floor manager, who told her that, while she had a valid point, she still could not use the toilet.
She said the incident caused her humiliation and upset, leaving her in considerable pain and in fear of soiling herself in a public place. The stress of the incident also caused her symptoms to flare up after she left, worsening her condition.
She said: “What I’m most disappointed about is that they knew my medical condition beforehand, because I had included it on the form.
“Surely, I’m not the only one who has had this problem at the job centre? It’s a government building and there should be toilets that customers can use.”
She has been given a letter of support from the Crohn’s charity to take with her to the job centre in future.
The letter says: “I hope you will give serious consideration to raising awareness amongst your staff of this embarrassing and debilitating condition. A little help and understanding on their part could make all the difference.”
A spokesman for the charity, which provides support to patients with inflammatory bowel disease, the umbrella term for Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, said: “This is a problem sadly, encountered by many of our members. People have to live with the problem of an unpredictable and urgent need for access to a toilet.
“It is understandable that people find it very difficult and embarrassing having to explain to strangers why they need help. The ‘Can’t Wait’ card confirms that the card-carrier is a member of our association and needs urgent assistance and understanding because of a genuine medical condition.”
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “We apologise to Mrs Martin for not giving her access to the toilets at the job centre.
“Presently we are unable to allow claimants to use the facilities used by our staff and others occupying the building, because of constraints imposed by the landlord.
“We are currently discussing this situation with the landlord.”