Okay, call me on it if you like, but we are way beyond Godwin’s Law right here and now. We are in the realm of Hanna Arendt’s ‘Banality of Evil’.
Susan Neiman breaks it down a little here
So, the problem is less that we need to recognize political, and for that matter big business leaders as the sociopaths they very well may be, but that there is a myriad of people who are entirely happy to carry out their cruelty. We now live in an era which splits the wrongdoing into bite sized chunks for different individuals to carry out, so that when you point out that you are not able to do whatever they are demanding of you it is not in their remit to, for instance, assess your disability, just to ensure you find a job.
The way it breaks down for me is the initial assessment form from ATOS the firm who are ‘not’ the govt, just carrying out orders, and from which they deduced that I was capable of being put in the ‘working’ group. These forms are dealt with very quickly, and it would appear that multiple disabilities do not count – my ‘points’ were based on my psychiatric status not fibromyalgia, and not chronic migraine (classed as chronic if you have more than 16 a month, at which point the World Health Organization consider a person to be more disabled than a paraplegic) and without contacting my GP or Consultant Neurologist or Psychiatrist. Nothing against nurses, but if you do get assessed (which I wasn’t) it is carried out by a nurse in a short interview, without reference to any of the hours you have spent with your more qualified GP and your very much more qualified in their specialist area Consultant/s.
THEN to add insult to injury, the govt has commissioned companies to carry out work previously done by specialist career counsellors with appropriate specialist qualifications. Attending a “voluntary” (compulsory) meeting with my unqualified ‘counsellor’, in conversation he told me he was ‘going’ to become qualified, but that he ‘didn’t read’. This may sound snobbish, but how does someone who ‘doesn’t read’ advise someone with two degrees and sundry other qualifications about the best career path for them?
For the past few months I have been left in a state of grace to get on with dealing with my myriad aliments, this being something that I am not even on top of, so how I am supposed to work as well as manage shopping and eating regularly (difficult) my medications (horrendously difficult) and personal care and environment (always a case of catastrophe management) I am not entirely sure. When I was called in for an ESA (Employment Support Allowance, the benefit I am on) group induction (with less than a day’s notice, the advisor phoning from a screened number and when the call was dropped he didn’t even phone me back to tell me which office it was going to be held at) I honestly doubt I would have made it without Ten shepherding me there. I was in full migraine incommunicado. Ten switched the mic on on my phone before I went in, because I wanted to be able to listen to it afterwards, but the sound quality was too poor.
We were herded into a room and told that from April we would be treated as Job Seekers. (Job Seekers have to show that they are applying for jobs and have to account for themselves on a regular basis.) If you do not attend for any reason you will be sanctioned. I get about £90 a week, and I have heard of benefit being cut to £21 a week for protracted periods for non attendance – even if this was because of a hospital appointment. I said that I was awaiting a tribunal to go onto the other version of the EAS which is for people deemed too ill to work. I was told in no uncertain terms that this was not their problem. They are not there to consider your disability, just to find you work. In the same breath they apprised us of their ‘Member Charter’ in which they state that they will treat you with ‘respect’. A respect which does not take into account your disability. What kind of respect might that be?
They were very keen to have us consider self employment. If we sign off and become self employed before April we will get benefits not far off what we get now, for a year. Their great idea for us is to become hairdressers or cleaners from home, or sell Body Shop products from home. This, with no respect for how many people visit us (in my case Ten, Lottie, and my neighbour Stephen and Ian and Al most months, other people less often) or OUR DISABILITY which might prevent us from cleaning, for instance. I used to work as a cleaner, you have to be bloody fit to do a good job, and I only just keep the worst of the physically endangering mess and dirt at bay at home. If you get DLA (another benefit – one I have never managed to get) or are a single parent you can consider yourself self employed if you do 16 hours a week. If not, like me, you should do 30 hours a week. That’d be 5 hours a day six days a week which would be the equivalent of me being accepted onto a space programme or running a marathon. I doubt I could do 5 hours a week. I’ve done considerably less than 5 hours a week setting up the Training With Awareness website, and it’s still quite crap. And I couldn’t have done more.
Evidently the govt wants people off EAS ‘working’ group and into work. Probably they don’t fancy putting us into workfare, since being stretchered out of their partners in crime’s premises wouldn’t look good for them. So we are being funneled into this self employment thing – which, lets face it, is going to fail for most people. Usually when people go self employed they do way more than 40 hours a week (the nominal weekly full time hours in the UK) and a LOT of them fail. This, with money to put in, full energy and ability to focus on something they are probably passionate about. So what’s going to be the reality for ‘us’? We are expected to earn £71 a week – if I could earn £71 a week I’d sign off ffs!
In the “Charter” they claim they provide “a welcoming, comfortable and positive environment” – The strip lights in the windowless room meant that I was glad I was wearing shades, there was no concession to physical disability whatever, and I consider the way they treated me as being about a -3 on “welcoming”. They were irritable, bossy, and disrespectful. Ha! Point two is “We will listen to you and treat you with respect.” Really? They go on to describe themselves as “helpful, polite, and professional at all times”. I was disinclined to communicate with them and spent most of the time in silence. When they asked if any of us had hobbies we could turn into self employed professions, the woman next to me said shyly that she liked to write. She was put firmly in her no mark place!
D’you know what? I’m not going to go through the rest. I expect you can see from this tiny taster the sort of bullshit we are dealing with here.
So what am I going to do? Pretend to be self employed for a year and hope to god something rescues me this time next year? Tough it out and maintain my more or less silent protest? Hoping that I don’t get so financially penalized that I lose my home?
Re the tribunal – the likelihood of the tribunal happening before April is quite slim. One is considered ‘work capable’ until or unless a tribunal overturns such a judgement, but even getting a tribunal has taken over a year. From what I am hearing going from having your appeal processed to actually having a tribunal can take several months.
I guess I’d better have my St Ann’s bag packed. With a copy of Janet Frame’s An Angel at My Table in my bag for added irony? Feeling that a mental hospital is a sanctuary from ordinary unhappiness exacerbated by a slew of people ‘just doing their job’ seems to me quite a good example of ‘the banality of evil’.
Have at it, Godwin, with your Law!