Reblogged from Kate Belgrave, with thanks.
This fits in nicely with David Cameron’s “let’s smack a few more people on benefits around and not talk about corporate tax-dodging theme:”
Here is a letter received very recently from a DWP “work coach” by Sean* (name changed), a Northamptonshire man who I’ve known and written about for several years. He has Asperger’s and severe depression.
Sean finds day-to-day life very difficult to handle (he struggles to leave his house a lot of the time). He actually finds day-to-day life so challenging that even Atos agreed that he shouldn’t have to work. After a face-to-face assessment for his WCA about two years ago (I attended that assessment with him), Atos placed him in the support group for Employment and Support Allowance. As many of you will know, people in the ESA support group are neither required to work, nor to look for work. That’s the whole point of the support group. It’s an acknowledgement (a grudging one, I suspect) by the system as we have it that some people simply aren’t in a position take a job. From Benefits and Work: “the ESA support group is for claimants who the DWP consider to have such severe health problems that there is no current prospect of their being able to undertake work or work-related activities.” Once you’re in the support group, that should be the end of that, at least until your next assessment.
But here is this letter all the same. Disturbing reports of other people in the ESA support group getting letters like this, or calls to attend work-focused interviews, now abound. Sean received this letter out of nowhere and it scared the hell out of him. I imagine that scaring the hell out of him was at least in part the point of the exercise. The DWP doesn’t like people with mental health conditions to feel too secure.
And they don’t. As you can read for yourself, this DWP letter calls Sean to an interview this week to talk about “returning to work” or “starting a new job,” how to “find the right job” and how Sean’s benefits might be affected if he did go to work (even though the government’s assessor has said that he can’t). Even more incredibly, the invitation calls Sean to a group information session. This suggests to me that whoever sent it never read Sean’s file, or even glanced at it. A group session? Sean finds groups of people so challenging that he can barely bring himself to leave the house a lot of the time. He said he couldn’t handle the idea of travelling across town to sit in a room with complete strangers to discuss very personal details.
That is one of the many reasons why the letter is crass in the extreme. There’s a flimsy attempt in it to acknowledge that Sean is not actually obliged to attend the meeting (“not attending will not affect your [benefit] payment,” etc), but the real message is loud and clear.
It was certainly loud and clear as far as Sean was concerned. The message he took from it was that even when the government’s own notoriously harsh medical assessors have agreed that a person can’t work, the government is very much of the opinion that the person can work – and should be pushed to work, more to the point. “Your attendance at this session is voluntary….we nevertheless would like you to consider attending this session,” the letter reads. The threat here is discernible. If anyone who has paid me over the years said “you don’t have to attend this meeting, but I’d like you to,” I’d know exactly what they meant. Sean’s wife Maggie* (named changed) told me the threat became even more explicit when she rang the DWP to say that Sean would not attend the meeting (Maggie makes a lot calls on Sean’s behalf, because he doesn’t like to talk with officials, or on the phone. Maggie herself has a severe mental health condition. She has a schizophrenia diagnoses and has spent a lot of time in hospital). Maggie said that when she called, the DWP said it would note Sean’s non-attendance “this time”- the implication being that he would be asked to attend again. Maggie said she told the DWP that Sean would never attend such a session. She said that the DWP told her not to say Never. Ahem. Neither Sean nor Maggie think they’ve heard the last of this. I doubt they have either.
I have been thinking about all of this as Cameron has tried to divert us from stories about his tax-dodging mates with stories about people with drug problems who are on benefits. It’s all very interesting, you know. I have long believed that this government and others like it want to eliminate all disability benefits. They want people to believe that everyone can work and always work if they’re given enough of a shove. I think this government particularly wants everyone to believe that people with mental health problems are dragging the chain on purpose – that all anyone with a condition like severe depression needs is a nice cup of tea and a gentle (and then less gentle) kick in the pants to get going. The fact that someone with a severe mental health condition receives the sort of letter you see above tells you everything you need to know about the direction we’re travelling in. Atos was hired to ram home the entirely baseless theory that a lot of sick and disabled people on benefits were fit for work. The next stage will be about ramming home the entirely baseless theory that all sick and disabled people on benefits are fit for work.
I’d expect a government that wanted to push that idea would hire an aggressive and voracious welfare-to-work scheme provider to assess people’s fitness for work from this point on – you know, a company that exist to push the welfare-to-work concept (rather than the welfare-because-people-need-it concept) in exchange for heaps of public dosh. Oh wait. It has.
DPAC are investigating instances where people in the support group are being sent letters by the DWP
We are asking people to contact us if you are in the ESA Support Group and have been contacted by your Jobcentre to attend an interview, or group training session. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will get back to you.
We will never disclose your name or personal information without your permission, but we may use your case (after your name and all personal details have been securely removed) to campaign against this. If you say no to this, we will not use the information in any way, and your information will still help us to understand what is happening.