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Archive for the ‘Adverse Social Effects’ Category

Nil Points…

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Nil Points… The WCA – Like a perverted Eurovison Song Contest, only no-one’s singing and dancing… mainly they’re being driven into destitution, or suicide, or simply dying while being ‘found’ fit.

The BBC seem to be catching up a bit of late, hopefully not too late, although it certainly is for a growing number of victims of Atos. There can no longer be any doubt that many have been driven to suicide by this government’s ‘welfare reforms’ in the area of health-related benefits. A recent news item on the BBC site is yet another in a never-ending torrent of evidence that the WCA is not only ‘not fit for purpose’ but is clearly a bureaucratic instrument designed to deny people their legitimate benefits. I no longer believe its simply about saving money. I believe its an ideological assault on the vulnerable, which has much in common with that of a more notorious historical regime. The parallels are striking, couched though they might be in a discourse more acceptable to modern consciences. This time instead of smearing all sick and disabled people, and being encouraged to regard them as ‘useless eaters’, we are invited to discriminate between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ sick and disabled. Once you establish that premise and install a bureaucratic system which finds the majority ‘underserving’, and then widely publish these distorted results in the mainstream press, you have paved the way for the wholescale demonisation of a community. Because ‘the public’ respond to messages, the same now as they did historically. And the overriding message for them has been that you can’t trust this sector of the population. The seeds of doubt have been sown in the minds of the ‘advantaged’, those who have no struggle with impairments in carrying out their daily lives. To the abject shame of our society the politics of resentment has been stirred up and aimed squarely at the vulnerable.

There is much denial that this is an offensive against the sick and disabled, with the utilisation of concepts created by disabled campaigners themselves, originally for the purpose of  overturning negative social preconceptions.  Now those concepts are being used against them in true Orwellian fashion, almost as if the government are saying “Well you claimed you could contribute to society, you claimed you could work, now get off your arses and do so, because we are not going to support you anymore”.  Or as Grayling prefers to spin it “identify people who can do more with their lives and give them the help they need to find their way back to work”, something that counter-intuitively will be facilitated by giving them less money rather than more, apparently.

More realistically, as disabled journalist Mark Sparrow put it earlier this year, these ‘reforms’ have compounded the disadvantage, as he writes: “Chris Grayling you’ve made me financially, as well as physically disabled”

To return to the most recently exposed victim of this system, Cecilia Burns received ‘Nil points’ at her WCA, despite the fact that she was still undergoing treatment for breast cancer. The government accordingly reduced her benefit by £30 per week. After fighting against the decision her ESA was reinstated shortly before her death. So this woman who had been enduring cancer, and enduring the side effects of treatment for it, was made to do so with less money, and had to spend the last months of her life in a pointless struggle to regain what she had been entitled to all along. Nil points to you Mr Grayling, and your immoral system, nil points.



The Abomination That Is The WCA: Excuses, Excuses…

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The government’s whole defence of the abomination that is the WCA rests on the argument that they wish to counter a defeatist attitude among the sick and disabled. That people have ‘given up’ on finding work. Anyone who has ever worked while sick with ‘commonplace’ ailments, for example when in the early stages of flu or an acute hay fever attack, or perhaps coming back to work after a fairly bad sprain, can see what a flimsy notion this is. Sick and disabled people have far, far worse barriers to overcome than those examples. Sick and disabled people by definition are anything but defeatist, since they have to put extra effort into their daily lives to compensate for their continuing physical/mental disadvantages. The ‘defeated’ sick/disabled person would not still be here, since they would have taken measures to end their struggles.

While Mr Grayling can only whine pathetically “But they can do some work” most sick and disabled people are already doing more than the ‘able-bodied’ just to function in everyday life. This is so intuitively true that I think its why some of the uninformed general public go straight to the ‘scrounger’ stereotype as a an explanation for people being kicked off benefits. They know that sick and disabled people genuinely have greater hurdles to contend with, because we have all experienced illness and understand the limitations it brings. Its not difficult to project that knowledge into a situation where you don’t recover, you don’t feel better. Like a case of permanent flu or a sprain which doesn’t heal (I’m deliberately using understated examples here in order to tap into common experiences of how illness affects someone’s capacity to work). So they have to cognitively dismiss the notion that genuinely sick and disabled people are being denied benefits and move on to something which makes more sense to them. Its the way our brains work, we reject ideas that don’t fit into our existing understanding about the world. Thus they skip over to the much more satisfying and fair notion that claimants are not really ill in the first place.

Secondly, and this is proven by Mr Grayling’s admission that he is not interested in ‘real world’ situations when it comes to bullying people with physical/mental impairments into jobseeking, is the complete denial of how ‘impairment unfriendly’ the contemporary uk workplace is. It is this way because of the intensification of work, because employers are focused on getting ever more out of workers while simultaneously finding ways of reducing their pay or any security of tenure of a job, so they can be dismissed according to the demands of the workload.

Imagine for a minute a sick or disabled person who is already physically disadvantaged attempting to not only overcome their personal impairments in daily maintenance, but also struggling to deal with the volume/pace of work most people are faced with these days. Imagine also the impact on a person striving to overcome psychological impairments who is subjected to the impermanence of unstable serial employment in highly stressed profit-driven work. Riding the two horses of benefits and work simultaneously is a heavy burden for even the most able-bodied, involving a permanent focus on the constant readjustment of one’s ‘status’. While in employment this involves making sure tax is deducted fairly, as every new employee is subjected to ’emergency’ rate tax, the onus being on the worker to have this rectified. Back on benefits effort has to be put in to make sure that entitlements are reinstated correctly. The administering of all this can often seem like an extra job in itself.

So we have a group of people who are already having to put greater effort into basic daily self maintenance expected to draw upon even more personal resources to adapt to work conditions which challenge even the most able-bodied. Thats if they can even secure work in the most competitive job market this country has seen for decades, where university graduates compete for mcjobs, or waitering or cleaning jobs.Since barely any job can be said to be permanent these days those coming in to the job market ‘at the bottom’ are so unlikely to partake of the benefits that genuinely stable, fair employment bestows that it beggars belief that this argument is tendered by this government. But then again, they really have no convincing alternative argument than the flimsy, outdated, inaccurate notion that Work Is (inevitably) Good For You.

*I would just like to clarify that in the above I am referring to what most people would regard as the ‘mild to moderately’ sick and disabled. Those more extreme cases which are very well known to the online communities, examples of which were most recently exposed on TV’s respective Panorama and Dispatches programmes, are more accurately defined as serious state abuses which deserve the strongest repercussions for those behind this process.

Ex-Atos HCP exposes WCA’s bias against the sick

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This January I wrote what turned out to be quite an extended piece about the conceptual basis underpinning the WCA; about the ideas that were pushed from certain quarters in order that the WCA could be carried out in the way it has been. Which has been towards the end of denying people their legitimate entitlement to health related benefits. It was published here on the International Green Socialist site , (*link no longer working, pdf available here) and attracted a large number of comments, many of which expanded on points and introduced material which the limitations of the article prohibited, such as the involvement of Big Insurance Company, Unum in these ‘reforms’ – to what they evidently anticipated would be their eventual gain.

One of the aspects of my analysis, that I thought very important to point out, was the glaring bias among the wide documentation underpinning the whole process, from Atos’ own advice to their ‘disability analysts’, to the government’s Employment and Support Allowance regulations, and even to guidelines for GPs assessing conditions. This bias which initially grabbed my attention through scrutinising my own and others’ WCA reports, expanded into a pattern permeating these other instruments/literature. The form it takes, that of deliberately undermining the claims a person makes about how their illness/disability affects their capacity to work, is to the discredit of  not only Atos, but also the DWP and the government.

It has been very gratifying, then, to come across this account by one of Atos’ ex Healthcare Professionals, which bears out my own, and others’, observations that the process underlying the WCA is a ‘sham’.

“I worked for Atos as a ‘disability analyst’ thinking I would be helping vulnerable people to access their benefits,” she said.

“I soon discovered that nothing could be further from the truth. The rules laid down by the bosses are designed to catch people out.”

Jean worked for Atos Healthcare in Scotland, but found she was unable to continue in a role which went against her professional, and personal, ethics.

“The job was making me sick,” she said. “It’s against my principles to treat people with long term illnesses in such a disgusting way, so I had to give it up.

“People go into those interviews and talk openly to you because you are a nurse and they trust you.

“Then your skills are used against them, to take away their benefits and destroy their lives.

“I can’t be a part of that.”

Its to be hoped that, similarly to the A4e scandal, more and more Atos Healthcare personnel will have the courage to tell the truth about this shameful process.

Cecilia’s Story: Fighting Cancer But Atos Find Her ‘Fit’ For Work.

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The Belfast Telegraph has reported on the case of Cecilia Burns, a lady who has experienced, as so many have before her, the de-personalisation, humiliation, intimidation and bafflement which results from being processed through this government’s screening instrument for health related benefits – the WCA. The story is predictably familiar:

“It was basically sitting in front of a computer screen answering questions, can you do this? Can you do that? Lift your legs, move your arms, head, hunker down.

This at a time when, as she informed Atos, she was still undergoing chemotherapy in her fight against cancer. Despite this fact she was coerced into attending the assessment with the threat that her benefits would be cut if she did not.

Like many people before her, Cecilia had innocently believed that the seriousness of her illness would entitle her to some respect, and that if the system was fair then she had nothing to fear. Instead, also like countless claimants before her, Mrs Burns was shocked to find herself declared ‘fit’.

“When I got the letter telling me I started to cry. I thought, ‘This can’t be happening to me’.

She posed the questions: “How can someone do an assessment when they didn’t have my medical notes, they weren’t a doctor, and how does lifting your arm or leg deal with you having cancer treatment?”

Well, the reason, Mrs Burns, is that the WCA was designed with great selectivity and narrowness of the ‘capabilities’ upon which people are assessed. These criteria work to exclude the majority from entitlement to benefit. That is its purpose.

Many people like Cecilia, who has worked and paid taxes for over 30 years, are under the impression that the government will act with good faith toward them should they fall ill. Little wonder that so many, the first time they reach out for support and fall foul of this deceitful process, are left with nothing more than a sense of stinging betrayal.

Written by bigleyma

March 24, 2012 at 12:54 am

Only Atos could ‘believe’ Robin Mitchell is fit for work

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“A PARKINSON’S disease sufferer whom doctors say has no chance of getting better is being forced to undergo repeated Government checks to see if he can return to work.”

Robin has Parkinson’s disease. His story was recently by covered by the Derbyshire Telegraph. Though the severity of his condition should be obvious to anyone, a nurse working for Atos Healthcare judged “that a return to work could be considered in 18 months”, despite the fact that Robin’s wife has had to cut her working hours to look after him. Robin had an unbroken work record of 42 years until ill-health forced him to leave.

Like Karen, ‘Peter’ and ‘Marie’, Robin, too, is stuck on Atos’ Roundabout, trapped in a cycle of constant re-testing and appealing. A process which is guaranteed to grind anyone down, let alone the sick and disabled, for whom it is closer to abuse.

An ex-work colleague has posted this message from Robin’s former boss, which demonstrates clearly his opinion of Atos’ assessment of his evidently valued former employee. I am posting the message here in its entirety:

“I know Robin Mitchell as he worked for my company before he sadly had to take early retirement in 2008 due to his deteriorating health. I, together with my staff, would like to meet the idiot who thinks Robin might be able to return to work in the future as he/she clearly hadn’t assessed him properly. Robin has always been a hard worker and, given the opportunity, would have continued to contribute to our business but it was evident to everyone that his Parkinson’s was forcing him into the position where he needed to take early retirement. Robin had contributed to society all of his life and it is only right that he should be supported at this stage of his illness. I am in favour of assessment – but only on the condition the process is fair. It is quite evident from Robin’s case that the assessment process does not work and is not fair. Robin, and I am sure he is not alone, should not be faced with this ridiculous situation where he is suffering from unnecessary stress for something that is totally avoidable. I would like extend an invitation to a representative from ATOS to my offices to see the sort of work Robin was undertaking before he had to retire and explain what sort of job he might be able to do in the future that would be more suitable. I doubt they could.”

Written by bigleyma

March 20, 2012 at 11:07 pm

The Black Magic Roundabout of the WCA: Peter and Marie’s Stories.

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Its becoming plainly evident that the majority of sick people going through the government’s Work Capability Assessment have a story to tell. The account varies according to which part of the Black Magic Roundabout they are forced off or simply give up.

This article focuses on the experiences of ‘Peter’ and ‘Marie’, both of whom have encountered the part of the process whereby they fail the WCA, though obviously suffering from considerable illness or disability, appeal and win, and are then forced to go through the WCA again. And fail again. And then must appeal again. And so on and on. The phrase ‘ad nauseum’ was never more appropriate for those who have no choice but to keep going round and round on this dizzying ride.


(Hello Atos! Here’s some more evidence of what your involvement in this glorious money-spinner  is doing to sick people.)

Written by bigleyma

March 20, 2012 at 9:52 am

Karen’s Story

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Social Welfare Advocacy blog has recently posted this personal account by Karen, someone who suffers from multiple serious health issues that severely limit her daily life. By any reasonable measure Karen should be eligible for the ESA Support Group, indefinitely. Instead she has been subjected to exceptionally poor treatment  by ‘the system’, including at the hands of a ‘stern and intimidating’ appeal tribunal, exposing her to  further distress, and has been placed in the WRAG (Work Related Activity Group).

At the end of my assessment she said;

“The people who check the forms, I believe are quite understanding and will have your best interests at heart and be sympathetic to your needs and place you in the right (support) group. If they do not place you in this group appeal it and you will win.”

“You are a genuinely ill person and are unemployable due to your multiple medical conditions.”

It is a courageous account of mistreatment at the hands of not only Atos, but also the tribunal part of the system. It hurts to read stories like these. And it inspires anger on behalf of these victims, for that is what they are. It is stories like this, and they are by far the norm, not the exeption, which give the lie to the government’s claims that this process is fair. It is anything but.

It is nothing but a systematic way of denying people their legitimate benefits. And it operates in a fearfully Kafkaesque way. I know that Atos have visited my blog recently. I know too that they have viewed my section on ‘my WCA experience, among other categories. Well, here you are Atos. Here is yet another real person whose life has been trampled on, and who has been caused extra suffering on top of her already considerable health issues. I hope you are proud.

And you, Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling et al, you should certainly be hanging your heads in shame. Even were it only one person who could be said to be suffering in this way, it would be enough to discredit the whole process. Instead there are masses. No wonder more and more people are drawing comparisons with the nazis’ treatment of the disabled. This is a purge of the sick and vulnerable, those who should expect to be afforded some respect and allowed some dignity in their daily struggle against illness.

I never feel entirely comfortable with adopting a high moral tone in this way, because its what politicians do and we all know how that tends to turn out. But, come on, this is a no-brainer. Its only the thin shield of compliant press and media that is preventing the truth about this becoming a national scandal of the highest magnitude. But,as the purge continues, the number of people who will learn first hand, either through family or friendship networks, what a deceitful, shameful process this is will grow, and eventually the truth will out. Such a disgrace that so many will have had to suffer in order to make that happen.

We can only hope the ”tipping point’ of these stories is reached soon, and broader society is no longer able to ignore this state abuse of the sick and disabled, and those who support them.

Written by bigleyma

March 19, 2012 at 10:18 pm