You know, it’s been quite an amusing December 3rd. First of all, it was International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which in England was particularly ironic considering some new legislation especially for us with disabilities! No, it’s not the re-opening of workhouses, but it’s pretty close. From today in England, all of us who are on sickness benefit and deemed ‘fit to work’, will have to do so. For nothing. For as long as they feel like making us do it. If we don’t? We lose our money.
Now, I get some people haven’t worked in their lives. I’m not one of those people. Currently I’m having to claim Employment Support Allowance (ESA) as I’m long term sick, have no specified date when I will be fit to work again and wouldn’t be able to hold down a job. When ESA was brought in, the idea was to replace the old Incapacity Benefit (IB) which didn’t have reassessments and people just claimed for as long as their doctors would sign them off for. Obviously this wasn’t the most efficient of systems, hence the reformation and introduction of ESA which would work nicely if it worked properly. See, the problem with ESA is that the government contracted this French IT company called Atos to do the Work Capability Assessments (WCAs).
Something struck me as strange about this; why would you ignore the fact that we have a national health care system who could do these assessments and appoint an IT firm to do them? So, Atos basically pays “healthcare professionals” to conduct these WCAs. When you go to them at/around the 13 week period of your ESA claim, you’re not even guaranteed to be seeing someone who has an understanding of your conditions. They’re meant to have information from your GP and any hospital/medical reports. You are in turn expected to provide any details of medication and treatment. The WCA is divided into two sections: the interview and the physical. The interview is a series of questions about how your day to day routine is affected by your illness, the physical is meant to assess your ability to perform simple physical movements. As far as I can tell, the ESA50 form that you fill in prior to this is meant to dictate what happens in the medical itself.
In my personal case, I have both physical and mental health issues. I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) at 19 following 5 years of depression and self harm, soliosis (curvature of the spine) at 18 after 3 years of issues with my knees and back which I initially thought were due to the physical nature of the work I did and playing hockey, then borderline personality disorder (BPD) at 24 following further self harming, depression and suicide attempts as well as increasingly erratic behaviour. In my WCA, I was asked about how I had been coping with the wait for the medical, how I had gotten there and some questions about my daily routine. Now, as someone who has health issues that fluctuate (particularly the BPD), I wasn’t entirely sure what sort of response to give, so I spoke as if it was one of my worse days. When it came to the physical, I was having issues getting on and off the couch which was raised a fair distance above the ground and had no supports to help me stabilise myself, on top of the fact that as I was getting down, even though the woman doing my assessment saw I was having issues, she walked back over to the desk and didn’t bother helping. Apparently I’m far from the only person who has had this happen so courtesy is something also excluded from these assessments.
I’m currently waiting on the results of my WCA, so only time will tell whether they find me fit to work or not. The really dispiriting part is that people have been dying as a result of these inaccurate assessments. Last month, disabled rights movement Spartacus published The People’s Review of the Work Capability Assessment, which was a report put together by those who have been through the ESA system themselves or helped others through the process in a response to Professor Harrington’s third and final independent WCA review. An average of 73 people die each week as a result of the WCA process. In a first world country. Britain.
Today there was a 2 minute silence in remembrance for those who have died as a result of these despicable assessments. There has been increasing social media coverage of events and even celebrities speaking out against the effective genocide in my country. It’s funny because it also makes a mockery of the Second World War; you know, how Britain fought against the Nazis and has similar inhumane acts going on.
Groups like Spartacus, DPAC, UK Uncut and The Black Triangle Campaign have been doing sterling work across social media in drawing attention to and in supporting those who are experiencing distress and strife with the cuts from the government.
Although there have been a number of demonstrations (I’m going to a local one on Friday outside the Atos branch that I had my WCA at), one feels as if nothing’s changing. There are more and more people speaking out now about the persecution of the disabled, and yet there are no changes to anything and everything seems to be falling on deaf ears. I seriously worry how much more blood needs to be shed before something happens.