Tuesday, 22 January 2013

ESA SOS: the world's silliest interview

On January 28th the government are changing the rules governing ESA, the benefit given to those who pass the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and are found too sick to work.

Rather sneakily these changes are billed as "minor" modifications and so don't need approval. It was only by careful vigilance of disability campaigners that they came to light at all, with a full briefing written by Sam Barnett Cormack in a project led by Sue Marsh called #esasos.

See here for the original DWP memo and see in particular parts 15-18.

The two changes causing concern are these:

1) The WCA assessor can now "imagine" how an aid would help the claimant whether or not they have it, whether it is available, or how long the waiting list might be. This includes wheelchairs, guide dogs etc... They don't need to discuss this with the claimant.

Since they don't have access to medical notes it could therefore be the case that the claimant has tried a given aid and it has been unsuccessful, or that a particular aid is unsuitable (for instance a doctor does not want their patient to start using a wheelchair yet), or that it is simply unavailable (for instance guide dogs are very difficult to get).
Based on this "imaginary aid" the assessor can declare someone fit for work.

2) Many illnesses and disabilities have both "physical" and "mental" effects and in the WCA these are separated into two sections of a form.

  • For instance taking opiate type painkillers may cause drowsiness and lack of concentration, which is put down in the "mental health" section.
  • Some conditions such as MS and lupus can have both mental health (eg lack of concentration, memory and cognitive problems) and the better known physical symptoms. Typically someone with these conditions will have symptoms in both parts of the form.
  • Vice versa some mental health conditions can give rise to physical symptoms either from the condition itself or as a result of the side effects of often powerful drugs the patient is obliged to take.

From now on only the physical effects of a physical illness/condition may "count" and vice versa only the mental effects of a mental health condition. Everything else will be ignored.

This is simply farcical.

World's Silliest Job Interview:

Employer:  "Good morning. Er, sorry for asking but I can't help wondering why you are dragging yourself across the floor..."
Interviewee:  "Oh, I'm not... I'm using my imaginary wheelchair. Here we go."
*reaches interview chair and climbs up off floor into it*
Employer: "Um... Won't you have trouble getting around the office?"
Interviewee: *cheerfully* "Not at all. As I said, I will be using my imaginary wheelchair."
Employer: "I see... " *scribbles on notepad*

Employer: "So the job entails mostly general admin work and... *discussion about job ensues*
Interviewee: *yawns*
Employer: "Sorry, am I boring you? You seem rather unfocussed and tired."
Interviewee: "Ah, well I usually have to rest at this time of the day. And we've been talking a while so I'm finding it hard to concentrate. It is because of the morphine painkiller I take. But if I don't take them I can't work because of the pain. I'm also quite forgetful as another aspect of my illness. You might find I type out the same letter twice and forget to write one or two."
Interviewee: " But don't worry. We can completely ignore the fact that that happens, because those are mental health issues and I have a physical illness." *smiles brightly*
Employer: "NEXT!"

While I have written this in a light hearted way there is nothing funny about the fact that people with serious disabling symptoms will have them ignored and found fit for work when in fact they are not.

If you agree this is absurd, please contact your MP.
You can do this via Write to Them website.

Also see other blogs who have written about this in particular:
Ekklesia (Official Briefiing about #esasos and Sam Barnett Cormack briefing)
Diary of a Benefit Scrounger (Sue Marsh's blog)
We Are Spartacus (with example letters to send to your MP)

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