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.

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It hit me the other day  in the midst of a pre ATOS panic that what this government is embarking on and the way it goes about it is tantamount to psychological warfare. Everything about the process of claiming benefits, and especially the rhetoric of austerity and the ‘scrounger’ fallacy trotted out in every government speech about ‘reducing the benefits bill’ and all that, is designed to make you feel like shit, to have you questioning your self worth. It’s designed to make you feel like less of a person, designed to make it as clear as possible that you have to jump through every hoop to gain your pittance as you are at the mercy of their whims. It encourages people to express their prejudices by informing on you, the benefits fraud hotline has an estimated 94% rate of ‘malicious’ calls, something which is exacerbated by the government and media portrayal of those on benefits, often using grossly flawed statistics and misrepresentations if not downright lies presented as ‘fact’ and justification.

Today I saw this Image on twitter:

 

All thus austerity rhetoric? It DOES have a negative effect on your mental health, especially if you already have a mental health problem and pretty much hate yourself on a regular basis anyway and could do without the extra help, and are forced through a system which is clearly not designed for such issues. The rise of hatred against the disabled and those who are deemed to be ‘faking it’ ie not fitting the image of a disabled or long term ill person as imposed on us by those without disability, usually as some form of angelic ‘super crip’,  it all hurts, really, really hurts.

I feel it is no coincidence that the worst bout of depression, anxiety and self loathing I have suffered for a good few months has peaked around the time of my ATOS assessment. No matter how hard you try, all this shit gets to you. Barely a day goes by where I turn on the tv, read a paper, go on line or interact with the outside world in some way that I don’t hear at least one story about benefit reform, cuts and unemployment, stories which are more often than not dripping with hatred and scorn for those of us who ‘live of the state and don’t give anything back’ blaming us for everything. This stuff gets to me, how can it not? This isn’t about some abstract benefits claiming bogeyman this is about real people and I am one of those people so of course I take it personally, it’s about me.

I have been fucked over far more times by the system than it has ever helped me; yet I am demonised and forced to jump through belittling and dehumanising hoops to get a fucking pittance because it is politically convenient to paint people like me as taking everything and not giving anything back.

Every time I hear someone going on about ‘scroungers’   – it hurts
Every time I hear rhetoric about ‘benefit culture’  and getting ‘something for nothing’ – it hurts
Every time I hear more news about punitive benefit reform which has the ever present underlying tones of ‘you don’t deserve it’ – it hurts
Every time it hurts, it REALLY FUCKING HURTS.

Yes I have never ‘worked’. I am not lazy, I just happened to get ill when I was 11 and my parents generally frowned upon child labour. I spent longer than usual getting an education as I was cheated out of any post 16 educational support by the system meaning I was no longer eligible for support for help with education, such as a home tutor. By 16 I had 2 GCSES so it took me a good few years of catching up to reach University.

I am not a ‘drain’ on resources, I ‘work’ for free for local charities, I work for free in museums and galleries, allowing them to function as due to spending cuts they now rely on volunteers as they are making paid staff redundant, I am told it is good for me to volunteer yet my volunteer work is never seen as ‘real’ work so I am perpetually trapped in the cycle of ‘no experience’.

I have been offered noting but insubstantial and ineffective help to deal with my depression via the NHS etc, thus trapping me in the ‘too ill to work full time’ trap for longer and leaving me even more unemployable.

The way society treats people with mental illness means I am not at the top of the pile for any job, it means I have huge fucking gaps to explain on my CV. Any support I have tried to access for help with this has either been useless (or useful in theory but fails to account for the inherent shittiness of the real world) or non existent.

I am not a ‘special case’ and I will not hear people saying ‘but this isn’t about people like you it’s about the people who take the piss’.I am the same as millions of people out there being demonised, insulted and having our livelihoods threatened, squeezed and removed when we have done nothing wrong.

The fraud rate for disability benefits is LESS THAN 1%. More money is lost through the incompetence of governments and the DWP than is lost through fraud. People are not living a life of luxury at the expense of the ‘hard working people’. The media and the government lie and distort facts. 

How can we blame people who are having to rely on charity handouts for food, to demonise them as scroungers and cheats and the cause of all our financial woes.  How dare we call them selfish and the ‘something for nothing’ generation when we have people like Bob Diamond on fat bonuses and Emma Harrison profiting for forcing people into unpaid servitude?

The failures of the system have been far more instrumental in landing me in the unemployment/long term illness wasteland than anything I have ever done, yet this system is punishing me, and others like me, for failures and mistakes that are nothing to do with us.

 

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