My Work Capability Assessment left me feeling upset, depressed and angry
I recently attended a Work Capability Assessment (WCA) in Nottingham. I have suffered from periods of chronic depression ever since I was a teenager and have been suffering from a severe depressive episode since February, which caused me to resign from my last temporary job in March.
I have held down a number of very good jobs in the past, including at the House of Commons, and I am determined to return to the job market in the future as I believe I still have something to contribute to society. At the moment, however, I am still very fragile, anxious and, at times, extremely depressed and despairing. My self-confidence is non-existent and, as a result, I have great difficulty in relating to people I don’t feel safe with. My mental health problems have been exacerbated by severe debt problems. As a result, my GP recently signed me off work for another 2 months.
The WCA started with a few cursory questions about my mental health condition - what were the symptoms? was I receiving treatment? (Yes) was I taking any medication? (Yes) - which I expected and were relevant to my particular condition. Thereafter, I became increasingly concerned at the irrelevance and focus of the questions. Some of the questions seemed downright bizarre: do you have any pets? (Does ATOS think that somebody is capable of work if they have a goldfish at home?) Can you make yourself a hot drink? Have you any hobbies? When I replied “bird watching” to the latter, he then asked when was the last time I went bird-watching, and whereabouts. I began to expect almost anything for the next question: What’s the capital of Switzerland? Have you ever seen a frog? Can you blink without external help?
The ATOS representative seemed particularly interested in my journey to the WCA. I live in Long Eaton, approximately 8 miles from Nottingham, and I had travelled by train and walked from the train station, stopping in a nearby church for a period of calm and tranquillity. I found the journey stressful and tiring as I am not used to public transport. Yet he was extremely interested in how I had got from the train station; how long it had taken me, and how I was intending to return home. The WCA appointment letter makes it quite plain that your benefit will be in danger if you do not attend the WCA; at the same time, the very fact that you do attend the WCA seems to be regarded as proof that you are fit enough to work and therefore not deserving of receiving Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) anyway. It is a deliberate no-win situation. I would obviously have preferred the WCA had taken place far closer to my home but was concerned, rightly or wrongly, that if I complained it might affect my benefit.
The whole process has left me feeling very upset, depressed and, yes, angry. I feel as if all the mental suffering and torment I have experienced in my life has been reduced to a series of fatuous and leading questions in an impersonal and harsh environment. I have been made to feel that my experience, which includes childhood illness, sexual abuse, and cancer, would not have affected a ‘normal’ person and I am weak and hopeless for allowing them to affect me in the way they have. I wish with all my heart that I had not undergone such experiences; I also fervently wish, virtually every day, that I had been strong enough to shrug them off and lead a continually economically active life. But, at times, and to my great distress, this is not the case, and I need help, support and treatment, before I attempt to rebuild my life once again.
I would think it is virtually impossible for anybody not to be passed fit for work if those are the sort of questions deemed appropriate for making an informed and compassionate decision on each individual case. It almost feels that we have reached a stage where illness of any type is regarded as a crime against capitalist society. This attitude is, of course, perpetuated and reinforced by the vicious and sustained propaganda spouted by the right-wing press. It is estimated that 1 in 4 people will experience some form of mental illness in their lives and, as far as I am aware, that figure does not exclude right-wing journalists and commentators. Some humility is surely needed as nobody, however confident, rich and successful, knows what is around the corner. This nonsensical and offensive system also needs to change before too many people are broken by the active indifference of a bureaucratic and faceless system.
- Posted by: Richard at 12:49pm on 23 May 2011
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