Watching Channel 4’s ‘Britain on the Sick’ and the BBC’s Panorama investigations into ATOS,the DWP, the work capability tests and disability benefit reform made me think; why is all the onus on us, people with disabilities and long term health issues, to become employed and fit work around our needs, why is none, or nowhere near enough, placed upon employers to make work more accessible?
The fact that the ATOS test deems you fit for work if you can perform very simple tasks often with assistance from aids you might not normally use, such as a wheelchair, or a very basic knowledge of lip reading and braille amounting to a few scant words; things that in the real world do no make you employable especially when very few employers are willing to make such adjustments, despite the Disability Discrimination Act.
The whole system is designed to force disabled people into boxes we don’t and can’t fit into and not enough effort, if any, is put into making these boxes flexible so we can fit into them. This rigid, unrealistic fit into boxes and measure by percentage approach is reflected in the targets set by the DWP and ATOS, that they won’t admit to but on which evidence is seeping out.
Employers by and large have far more resources available to them and have the power to change things far more than any individual disabled person. The same government that is demanding we work is the same government that is busy eroding employment rights and support for those of us who do manage to work. Making it easier to sack workers, attempting to remove access to tribunals. It is setting up even more barriers, making access to work even harder and giving employers incentives NOT to make allowances and adaptations; yet still expecting us to hurtle through flaming hoops to be deemed a decent human being. The same government that demands we do all we can to manage and treat our illnesses and conditions is cutting NHS resources leaving us with little or no support, this is especially true for mental health conditions as in addition to atrocious lack of funding in mental health care the government is making the new work capability tests focus so strongly on the physical that mental illness is barely given a look in. The ESA (employment support allowance) form has one page of about 20 or so on mental health issues, the rest is largely irrelevant yet is what the bulk of the points needed to score as eligible for benefits will be awarded on.
There is a point in the BBC investigation in which a support worker tells the tale of a claimant who had taken many overdoses and was asked by an assessor ‘why aren’t you dead then?’ and then she was told if she stopped the interview due to emotional distress her benefits would automatically be terminated. All ATOS assessors are supposed to be trained medical professionals, that a trained medical professional (or indeed human being with a soul) whether in the realm of mental health or not, could act in such a callous way is despicable and an example of the prejudice those of us with mental health issues face every day. If didn’t have the wonder that is my supportive Mum during my assessment I would have been a wreck, I was a semi wreck as it was, biting and scratching myself for lack of a blade in the waiting room. In tears and anxious for days, weeks beforehand. Those without mental health problems report similar feelings of dread with assessments and re assessments always looming in the background leaving you little time to relax.
This is bullying, it is heaping the entire burden of employment upon disabled people, it is a system that sees us a guilty until proven innocent and even then we still have to be re assessed every five minutes. It fosters bullying and outright hate crimes as the propaganda from the DWP and government encourages us to be seen as ‘scroungers’ and ‘cheats’. The system is unfair and it doesn’t work. The governments own advisers have quit (or been forced out?) or resigned as a matter of conscience , yet still they plough on proving they don’t care. This is not about saving money, as it doesn’t, not with the massive amount of appeals and minuscule rates of benefit fraud for disability benefits compared to say the billions lost by tax evasion.
It is demanded that we shoulder the burden, a burden that is not ours to bear. A burden of which we already bear too much in the form of hatred, a society that does not adapt to differing needs.