By a Voice Reporter
A few weeks ago, a friend got the dreaded letter from ATOS Healthcare to report for a medical to Cadogan Street in Glasgow. In her case it was not a brown envelope but a cheery white one from the delightful address of Primrose Lane.
Knowing the first rule of attending an ATOS medical is never to go alone, she asked me to accompany her for moral support.
I know the two weeks she had to wait were difficult for her. Her illness is a hidden one. She lives with a psychotic illness which she has endured for most of her adult life. Despite this, she worked full-time until four years ago, punctuated with regular hospital admissions.
Three years ago, with the cuts beginning to bite, she was one of the first from her team at a local authority to be made redundant. She has been trying to work since but her mental health has deteriorated to such an extent that she has to rely on Incapacity Benefit, now known as Employment and Support Allowance. It means that she can have some security, that she would not be forced to attend a session of “employability training” or even workfare.
My friend is very good at hiding how she is feeling but I could see evidence of her anxiety building. Her partner and her friends offered as much support as we could but there was little we could do apart from be there for her and gather as much information as we could.
So we trawled the internet and attended meetings. There is a lot of information out there. Many people are being affected by the malevolent, cold ideology of Iain Duncan Smith and his millionaire friends, who have no concerns for my friend or the thousands of others like her in similar situations. To them, they are nothing but statistics. It is heartening to see that despite the attack on people with disabilities, some people still find the strength to write and share what is happening to them so others can benefit.
In Glasgow too, a group continues to picket Cadogan Street once a month. Made up of a group of people with disabilities and local activists, Glasgow Against ATOS continues to grow in numbers.
As well as the monthly picket, they intend to plan direct action against ATOS the corporation and have already targeted the Commonwealth Games offices that are using ATOS to recruit volunteers similar to those used at the London Olympics.
My friend was unable to attend, as groups are difficult for her, but she visited the Glasgow Against ATOS website and was able to find out what to expect from the medical. Like many others before her, she expected to get the ATOS cure, a miracle that doesn’t require a trip to Lourdes but can find people with long term conditions suddenly deemed fit for work.
We turned up at Cadogan Street two weeks ago. It seemed a million miles away from the letter’s address. It was just your typical government office in Glasgow city centre. Her appointment was at 4pm, near the end of the day, but the waiting room was full of people of all ages, from 16 to 65.
The reception worker apologised but explained there would be 45 minute delay. I asked if my friend could come back but it was explained she would have to wait to be seen. We found a quiet corner near one of these children’s toys where beads can be moved around colourful wires.
I noticed that the beads were all in order, probably never been played with, but that is rule number two of ATOS - if you are capable of looking after a children, or even a pet, you are capable of work.
My friend listened to some music on her mp3 player to zone out. I talked to some people. A young man aged around 25 who had been discharged from the army with post traumatic stress disorder after a tour of duty in Afghanistan. So much of Cameron’s promise for a covenant with the military. A woman in her fifties with COPD who had been told by her consultant that her condition was life limiting but still had to endure this assessment.
All the people there had a wide range of disabilities, some physical but many much less obvious. People understand physical disability. Cameron used his own son in the lead up to the election to show he understood some of the conditions people live with. I wondered what he would make of this waiting room. It would probably be good for a photo opportunity and a homily about supporting people into work.
After 50 minutes, my friend was seen. She was one of the lucky ones, and she was seen by a doctor, not a nurse, and the doctor had experience of mental health conditions. My friend has asked for her session to be recorded but the recording equipment was out of order. Rule number three - always get the medical recorded.
However, after so much stress in getting there, she decided to go ahead. The medical consisted of a series of questions relating to her ability to deal with day to day living. A lot of them were cross referenced, a bit like a kinetic DLA form which is why rule number one is important - definitely DO NOT go in without support.
My friend is still waiting to hear the decision but expects, at the very least, to be assigned to the work related group. Due to her mental health, she faces more barriers to get back to work than others but in an ideal world would like to work and, indeed, has much to offer any employer.
Medical examinations like those the DWP and ATOS make people endure cause so much fear and anxiety they can worsen conditions. People have ended their own lives after been found fit for work.
The ConDems are keen to portray people with disabilities as being guilty of being skivers until the facts about their health condition are believed. What a way to treat people!
I am grateful to my friend for allowing me to write this, as she wants her story out there too. I have also learned a little about what goes on inside an ATOS office and hope to support others. I hope people who read this will support others too.
Courtesy of the Scottish Socialist Voice