Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A little more of One Month Before Heartbreak

Today's post is another One Month Before Heartbreak reblog (with the author's permission of course.) You can read the original post here. If you haven't already read the hundreds of posts up on the One Month Before Heartbreak site, I wholeheartedly recommend doing so.


The heartbreak has already started, it started the first time a government minister raised the idea of changing Disabled Living Allowance (DLA).

I’ve been trying to write something for One Month Before Heartbreak, it’s been frustrating because it never quite works. So here I am again, trying a different angle in the hope I can write something I’m happy with.

I was reminded recently of a quote from Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States.

“When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government there is tyranny.”

As a disabled person living in the United Kingdom today, that quote means something to me. To be honest, it’s meant something to me for quite a while, the tyranny started long ago.

Disabled people in the UK have feared their government for a while now, maybe not in the form of a particular government minister, maybe not in the form of the government itself. But certainly in the form in which most disabled people come face to face with the government, through the DWP, or one of its proxies known as Atos healthcare.

I can only describe my own experiences, but I do know that many other people have had similar experinces.

It starts with a letter from something called Atos, the first time you receive one you read it through and think, oh, it’s a medical, that’s fine. I know that I’m disabled, my doctor thinks I am, so does the specialist I’ve been seeing, I know they have both sent supprting statements for my claims, I’ve seen those statements.

On the day of your ‘medical’ you go through your usual routine not knowing any better. I sat with my Tens on for about 45 minutes prior to leaving, just to make my life a little easier as I do every morning. You turn up with the copy of your letter, your proof of ID, and you wait, and you wait. Eventually you’re called into the exam room and the questioning starts.

This is where you slowly start to wonder what is going on. I started answering the questions I was asked only to be told about half of the time that I was answering them in the wrong way, I also kept being told that neither I, my GP, or the specialist knew what we were talking about. I was also told that some of my symptoms couldn’t possibly be connected to what was supposed to be wrong with me.

The physical examination came next, but it wasn’t an examination, it was an assessment. He just wanted to see how far I could move, and again I was in the wrong. By this time the effects of my using the Tens earlier were wearing off and I was feeling rapidly increasing levels of pain. Obviously my range of movement reduced as the pain increased, trying to explain this to him was pointless, as was trying to tell him that I could do many of the things he asked me to once, but that trying to do it a second or third time would be too painful. He didn’t care.

By this time, I was in a lot of pain, I was confused and I just wanted it to end, but no, he now wanted to read back what I’d told him to make sure that I was happy with what he had written. I really didn’t care and as what he said sounded vaguely like what I thought I’d told him, I just agreed and said I was happy, anything to get this ‘medical’ over with and get out of there.

A few days later I found out what a mistake I’d made, although I had been given an award, his slight twisting of what I’d said had made it appear that I wasn’t really quite as bad as I was. After what I’d been through I didn’t really want to make a fuss, but I steeled myself and rang the DWP. After I explained the situation I was told that I could go through the whole thing again and be reassessed, but that it was doubtful it would make any difference to my award, and that I could make an offical complaint, but for that to be successful I would have to show that there was a substantial difference between what I had said and what he had written.

At that time, with no experience of the benefits system, having just been through one ‘medical’ that left me in great pain and feeling humiliated, and realising that no matter what I said, there was no way a complaint would make any difference, I gave up.

What that first examination, and the ones that followed have taught me, is that you learn to fear those assessments, you learn to fear Atos and it’s employers, the government. You fear the assessments and Atos because no matter how many times you go for them you have no idea what they are actually looking for, what the criteria are, or how qualified the person assessing you is to make a judgement about you. You fear the state because no matter how badly Atos treats people, no matter how many times they screw up and no matter how many appeals against their decisions are won, the government keeps renewing their contracts. I worry that I will be the next person who will have my benefits stopped on a whim and have to fight to regain them.

So now, when that envelope drops through the door I start to panic, I stop eating properly, I stop sleeping properly and that goes on until I have been for the assessment and it carries on until I get the next letter with the decision.

None of that is good for my health, but now it’s worse, I fear what the government will do with DLA. This time though, I have a month until the consultation is over, and then there will be a wait to see what the government will do. So I can look forward to at least another month of ruined sleep patterns, alternatively not eating properly and binge eating for comfort. At least another month of fearing what this government will do.

I spent close to seventeen years serving this country in its armed forces, do I have to spend as many years fearing this tyranny, and the ones that follow it, as they try to remove my freedom to have a life worth living?

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