…and the Government’s Work Capability Assessment isn’t fit for purpose, either
If you’re not aware: I’ve been unemployed since I moved back to Scotland in 2009 with my family. Through no choice of my own at that point. I was looking for work. I’d just left my job at Topic Newspapers, where I’d been working for two years, and I thought it’d be easy to get a job, what with my experience and my college qualification and what-have-you.
Nope. Not so.
I looked and looked. I sent my resumé to companies who weren’t even hiring at the time. I literally went into town with physical copies of it, and handed it to the graphic design companies I’d found via a Google search. I gave a copy to the local newspaper every three months (they’re supposed to keep it on hand for three months before getting rid of it) for a year before giving up hope of ever hearing back from them.
I’m still unemployed.
But at this point, I’m disabled, too. It took me four years to start calling myself disabled, but I have, and that’s important. I walk with a walking stick, because my spine is crumbling under the weight of my body. I have pain shooting down my left leg from my spine and hip. The actual physical movements of my hip and spine are impaired because of it. I’m in incredible amounts of pain every day; moreso, if I have to stand for lengths of time. (Strangely, walking is easier than standing. Go figure.)
But d’you know what?
Because I live in the UK, and I’m unemployed, I’ve had the joy – and I use the word sarcastically – of dealing with the Department for Work and Pensions. I had to “sign on” for a year, before someone at the Job Centre told me: “hey, btw, I don’t think you’re fit for certain types of work. Check out this and that and the next thing and call up for Employment and Support Allowance.”
Employment and Support Allowance, or ESA, is a different kind of out-of-work benefit. JobSeeker’s Allowance is for those who are capable of doing any work. ESA is for those who are unable to do some or any work.
If you’re on JSA, you have to “sign on” (go to the Job Centre every two weeks and talk to an advisor) whereas on ESA, you either have to provide a sick line from your doctor during your evaluation period until you’re passed Not Fit For Work at which point you don’t have to get sick lines anymore, or you’re passed Fit For Work, and you need to FIND WORK, or make another claim.
They do this thing called a Work Capability Assessment. It’s hell. You have to go to a building in the middle of – well, for me it’s Glasgow – and there’s no parking nearby so if you’re disabled you either have to park somewhere about a mile away and walk, or get dropped at the door. Or come from the station, which is a quarter mile away. You tell them this, they make notes, “Walked a quarter mile. Is able to walk. Is obviously fit for work.”
No, I’m not joking. I’ve read enough of my reports to know this.
The Government employed (employs? I know they were supposed to be replacing them, but last time I got an assessment, not too long ago, it was still Atos doing it…) a French company called Atos Origin – I’ve linked to The Guardian’s coverage for a reason – to perform these Work Capability Assessments (WCA/WCAs). There is a nurse or a doctor present, whom you’ve never met before. They don’t know your medical history. They’ve never spoken to your doctor. They’ve never spoken to YOU.
They ask you questions that have nothing whatsoever to do with your condition. I can’t remember specifics at this point, because I got rid of my old reports, but I believe one or two of the questions I was asked had to do with owning a mobile phone, or questions about my cat. Because I owned a cat, apparently I was fit for work because I was capable of looking after someone other than myself. Because I owned a mobile phone, I wasn’t scared of talking to strange people. Things like that.
Image from Political Scrapbook.net, used without permission. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like me to remove it.
Now, I’m not just babbling for the sake of babbling. I’ve gone through hell with these assessments. The first time I went through one, I was found Not Fit For Work, and I was signed off for a year.
The second time, I had started exercising, and made the mistake of mentioning it at my assessment. Despite the fact that my condition had worsened, and I was on more pain meds, and was struggling with it more, I was found Fit For Work, and I had to take it to a Tribunal.
I was still found Fit For Work… and had to make an entirely new claim. With a different medical reason.
The next time, I was, again, found Fit For Work, because I apparently smiled too much during my assessment, and made too much eye contact. At an assessment where I didn’t look up from the floor because they gave me a male nurse, when I specifically requested a female. At the Tribunal, they’re supposed to look at the report for the actual assessment, but they based their outcome on the day of the Tribunal instead, and, apparently, because I had decided to wash my hair and put on mascara and lipstick and a skirt, I was dressed nicely, and obviously could take care of myself. And was Fit For Work.
I appealed the appeal, and I’m still waiting for a date for my next Tribunal. Luckily, my Doctor knows how bad my back is, and how bad my health is, and continues to provide me with A) medical support and B) sick notes.
I’m one of the “lucky” ones. I mean that in that I’m still alive.
There were complaints upon complaints, since the Conservative/Liberal Democrat government came into power and started going after those who were claiming unemployment benefits (instead of those who were avoiding taxes) and clamping down on the WCA. There were rumours that the Nurses and Doctors performing the WCA were given a target to hit: a specific number of people to fail, or to find Fit For Work, every day, whether they were, or not.
People were being found Fit For Work when they weren’t, and people were committing suicide. People were dying. People were losing their benefits.
The figures were recently revealed, and it’s as disgusting as I figured it would be.
2,380 people died between 2011 and 2014 shortly after being declared able to work
2,380 people lost their lives, in one way or another, thanks to a greedy, disgusting government who were more focused on stealing from the poor and giving to the rich, than actually helping those of us who can’t find work for whatever reason – whether that be that we can’t work right now because of an illness, or because our spines are crumbling, or because of a workplace incident, or because we’re fucking dying of cancer.
I’m one of the lucky ones.
I’m not Fit For Work, definitely.
But I’m still alive.