Month: May 2011

Why continually bleating out the truth about disability cuts is falling on perplexed ears. #ukuncut #hardesthit #ukmh #mhuk

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“Yes, I understand they are concerned, but what do they have to worry about if they are doing nothing wrong?” asked a lady listening to a group of mental health service users talking about how they are feeling about the controversial approach to assessing their rights to the disability benefits they are claiming.

It is difficult to help someone to understand how the effects of negative press, changes in how the government view the disabled, and how the public are being made to perceive someone who claims a disability benefit for a mental illness. Difficult to explain if the person who cannot grasp the concept of ‘living in fear’ of the system designed to protect the vulnerable, has no connection or experience of it.

I listened, as people who are feeling scared, and are trying desperately to understand why they have become the ‘target’ of such animosity, try to help this lady see it from their point of view. She acknowledged and agreed that people were being inaccurately represented by the media and (quote) “perhaps being cruelly treated by the Atos assessment centres”, but she really was perplexed around the answers to her original question.

This has been something which I have pondered for some time. It would be wrong to dismiss people making such comments, they don’t necessarily say these things because they lack empathy, they say them because they lack the ‘reality’ of lived experience.

Last week I had an experience which for me highlights how pressure, anxiety and fear can make someone feel as if they are doing something wrong, even when they aren’t!

My son was very lucky, his girlfriend bought him a holiday for his upcoming birthday! Amazing! Amazing that is except the holiday begins next week and they booked it last week and his passport had expired.  He called me and explained that he could get a new one within a day in Newport if his old one wasn’t damaged, but as it was he could use their ‘Guaranteed One Week Service.’

We caught the train to Newport. My son had picked up 4 new forms, which I’d snorted at saying; “Its easy, we only need one, its a renewal.”  Two hours later and four forms down I was eating my words. You see, there was so much riding on my son being able to get his passport quickly, and one mistake, one missing piece of information could mean his form would be stamped ‘rejected’ and the consequences far reaching.  On the first form I’d misspelled his name, my own sons name!! On the second form his signature went outside of the box slightly, as sure fire way to the ‘reject’ word. And then to top it off we dated one 2010….! By the time we’d got the form right we were both tetchy and wired. My son said “God Mum, it’s like we are doing something dodgy, when all I’m doing is filling a form to get my own passport in my own name.” And that was it, the moment I recognised why people cannot get it, why they don’t understand the type of anxiety related to something which has a direct impact on your daily life. You genuinely have to ‘feel it’.

I may have laughed listening to my son nervously babble “It’s been in my back pocket since I was sixteen and through the washing machine twice”, as he explained the sorry state of his expired passport to the stony faced official, but I could feel the waves of real anxiety emanating from him, these were as real at that moment as those from a room filled with people in ‘terror’ of being assessed by ATOS.

Our story had a happy ending, he has is passport, and he will get to go on holiday. Whilst the consequences of failure for him, not getting that passport would have been damaging, they’d have lost a holiday and a stack of cash, they obviously don’t bear any resemblance to the possible repercussions of incorrectly completing a disability benefits form and failing an ATOS assessment.

I’m unsure if simply continually ‘bleating’ out what is the genuine ‘truth’ of the situation for the people currently affected by the benefit ..’erm’…reforms is ever really going to impact on the average person not affected by the cuts. We can belt out statistics, and give them case studies, but if we are facing ‘if they’re doing nowt wrong, they’ve nowt to worry about” then I think we need to consider how we make it possible for the genuinely perplexed to be able to really see?


Dawn Willis. May 2011