Thursday, 16 June 2016

Still Going

I started this blog thinking I could do something useful, provide some decent citizen journalism, or at the very least offer something credible for, at the risk of stroking my own ego, posterity. But in truth I have found it very difficult to keep up with my own standards. This is true of all the writing I engage in. It isn't that I don't enjoy it, or that I don't know how (YMMV), but that I just struggle to maintain the concentration. This is part of the problem, mental health-wise, that I have tried to address in recent years; all to no avail. Unfortunately it is simply perceived as an excuse by our society. In response to that, I offer none. I am what I am, and if that means I'm lazy then lazy I must be.

I was due to have a WCA on the 7th; instead I rang and said I couldn't go through with it and that they could pursue whatever consequences they saw fit. Curiously they offered me the opportunity to postpone the interview, which I did, though I'm not sure why. Apparently claimants have the right to a one-time 'no questions asked' postponement.

Today I received the new appointment, which is Monday the 27th at 9-40am. I can't say I'm looking forward to it. I don't really want to be sat in the waiting room, which I will be because one of their tactics is to deliberately keep 'customers' waiting. It's part of the assessment process. I don't want to be surrounded by strangers, and I don't want to the attention of staff like the receptionist who was present last time. Her attitude was thoroughly unpleasant and judgemental, with that permanent "I'm better than thou and I can barely tolerate your presence" attitude.

I also don't think I have a cat in hell's chance of passing a Work Capability Assessment. Amusingly I compare my chance to pass to my certainty that I will most assuredly struggle in a working environment. I believe that I need support, but support there is not.

I was supposed to have a Work Focussed (aren't they all?) Interview at the JC last Thursday. I didn't attend and again rang up saying that I wasn't going to attend and that whatever consequences were forthcoming I would accept. I've no wish to fight these people any more, I haven't the energy. I was offered a telephone appointment instead, which I took. It didn't go anywhere though. The guy was friendly enough and his attitude was sympathetic, to be fair, but what can he offer? What can he do? The system isn't designed to help or support people. He mentioned that I should write to my MP. But why; the guy is a Tory who voted to cut ESA by 30%. He wants me to court the attention of someone like that? Irony! That aside, all he could offer was to talk to colleagues in the Work Choices programme and that we would talk in a month. I did tell him that I had no chance of passing my WCA, so there's not much point. I guess we will find out, I saw no point in refusing to talk again.

Work Choices is another DWP programme, which immediately makes it suspect in my book, even though I don't' know it very well. It specifically targets people out of work for health reasons, but I can't see what it can offer. Ultimately it's going to be the same old same old, maybe with a slightly softer approach so as not to be seen as bullying the disabled. Not that bullying has ever been something the DWP has had a problem with. Who knows maybe they will have something unique to offer, but in terms of healthcare, mental health support, training, etc, none of it will meet the need. A little bit of 'confidence building', some box ticking, polishing up the old CV etc. Meaningless: no amount of polish will make my CV competitive, I haven't the experience, and, with a history of unemployment on grounds of mental health, there is precisely no chance of finding a job, never mind a decent one. That assumes I can tolerate the nightmare anxiety labyrinth that is Universal Jobmatch.

What future is there?

PS: I notice that comments are apparently being made, but they aren't showing up on this page, only the email notification. If I don't respond to anyone kind enough to comment, know that's the reason why.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Looking For A Job

I've no idea how I'm going to handle full time work, but as there is no way short of a miracle that I will pass another WCA, I have little choice. I'm not even sure of the point of attending and, given that I don't have three forms of ID (as required), I doubt I'll even get in the building. The receptionist at the place is a stone faced haridan who has a habit of deliberately making people wait - all part of the test no doubt.

Consequently - and for a long time now - I have been searching on the still-appalling Universal Jobmatch website. This site is so broken and so poorly designed as to be completely useless. In fact it's beyond useless to the point of actually being counter productive.

Nothing is stored correctly, adverts are mislabelled and misrepresented, out of date and in some cases, don't even provide the means to actually progress forward. I would have used the word apply, but since clicking the link takes you further down the rabbit hole of online recruitment website links, one after another, it would be erroneous to do so.

The overwhelming majority of adverts pertain to telesales in one form or another, often mislabelled as 'customer service' or even 'sales assistant'. So jobs that should be retail, which is the most likely gig I'm going to get, are never actually shop work. All of these jobs require someone that is committed to being a profit hungry sales jockey. That is most assuredly not me and there is no way on god'd green earth I can fake it. Nor should I have to, it's absurd to expect a successful labour market to be built on such mendacity.

One of the worst features of this site is that, instead of moving through the adverts as you click next page, it reshuffles the existing adverts. Consequently you just end up looking at the same adverts repeatedly. Given that most of them are the same kind of job, all mislabelled, it's like a terrible hall of mirrors where nothing is real. Since none of these agencies ever bother to respond to emails the whole thing, really, is a massive waste of time.

Of course the government won't give up this system any time soon. The contract may be up for renewal soon, but the site requires more than a change in ownership, it needs scrapping and a complete overhaul. It is utterly broken at the most fundamental level and functionally useless.

This just leaves dealing with jobs advertised in real space. Unfortunately this is no better. I saw that WHSmiths (do they still exist?) wanted part time staff (everything is part time). But the application requirements called for a five year checkable work history - for a job selling magazines and Top Gear dvd's! Hardly Fort Knox! Waterstones too had a couple of adverts; you might think they'd be a good place to work, but no. The first was for a 'bookseller barista'. Their shop now, inexplicably (though probably due to the exorbitant price of books these days), has a cafe and as such they need someone to man the espresso machine while on hand multitasking flogging paperbacks. Unfortunately, the barista required someone with coffee shop experience. Such is the nature of the job that it requires an exotic moniker to make it sound more exciting than the reality of making tea and serving it to yuppies at silly prices.

Annoyingly they also listed a vacancy that turned out instead to be a CV gathering exercise. I asked about the position (my CV is useless and I don't carry a copy around with me since there's no point). But they said that not only did they not actually have any vacancies at present, but they had lots of CV's on file anyway. What is the fucking point of that? Why even bother? I complained on social media, which of course is the equivalent of pissing into the wind. What can you do? Had I made a fuss in the shop it would have had the opposite effect.

The reality is that jobs like this, shops and business in the city, will get their staff from the local student population. I've no doubt they have similar adverts regularly placed in student unions and that loads of kids, who make ideal part time staff (the least likely to complain about shit terms and conditions as well), will give their CV's in. You can see this in the make up of the staff in these places. Someone like me doesn't stand a chance.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Top Down Reform of the NHS In Action

No top down reform, that's what the liars in the Tory party said before the collective herd of ignorant ill informed morons that voted for them managed to enable a coalition. 

Five years later, and a change in the face at the Department of Health, and it's another set of treacherous promises, all designed to obfuscate the truth. This time it's all about a seven day NHS. This against a backdrop of, amongst many things, increased difficulty getting a routine GP appointment.

So the privatisation of the NHS is going well.

I've just been to my local surgery, in person, to try and book an appointment. Ordinarily this is difficult enough, thanks to the Coalition's decision to turn PCT's into private enterprises and give a bunch of local autocrats the power to do as they please. My surgery has, apparently for a month now, only been open in the morning. Staffing issues is the reason, despite their being enough staff every time I have visited prior. We have always had a surgery here, for as long as I can remember.

The real reason for this, I suspect, is that the programme manager, along with a number of the senior doctors, are more interested in their private business, 'Work Doctors'. They are supposed to be working for the NHS, for the community, as is the local surgery. However ever since our local surgery lost it's two long standing doctors to retirement, they have struggled. Merging with a neighbouring practice, against a backdrop of Coalition changes, has created a piss poor provision run by these people. Appointments with my GP are impossible at the best of times with waiting times running into hours. Now it is impossible to be seen here except in the mornings. What makes this worse is that I have to compete (yay capitalism!) with those patients from the neighbouring cohorts who also want to be seen. 

This is disgusting. This morning I received notification that I have a Work Capability Assessment on the 7th of June. This is not something I have been looking forward to. My attempts to get a diagnosis for any of the issues that I face have comprehensively failed. My last appointment with the aforementioned GP got nowhere, as usual. In fact, the evidence I presented to support my case for a successful Aspergers diagnosis, have disappeared into an administrative black hole (ie, they lost the paperwork I gave them, which will not be easily replaced in a hurry). It's a farce at this point and it's long since past the point where I feel they stopped taking me seriously. 

My attempts to address the metabolic problem - whatever the fuck it is - that has plagued me for over a decade have similarity met with no success. All of these are, IMO, valid issues to raise at a WCA, but without supporting evidence (never mind an actual diagnosis of some kind), there is little point in me attending. Not only that but to even be allowed to proceed with the assessment three forms of ID are required in lieu of a passport (i don't own one, nor am I legally olibagated to). I don't think I have anything beyond a tatty (at this point) birth certificate and a bank statement - and I sure as shit don't want them having access to what's on there. You can't trust these filth with anything.

So there it is. That's the state of support for people like me. As ever I stress there are plenty of people far worse off than I, though I shouldn't need to mention that since I am not against the divide and rule tactics that the ruling elite employ. Everyone who needs support should get support. At the moment there is nothing. In fact even the appalling Universal Jobmatch has proved to be not just a haven for shitty/funny adverts, but is so dysfunctional as to be completely useless. 

There is, quite simply, no future.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

From the Office Of... 2

(This too precedes the resignation of a certain appalling senior Tory...)

So I received a letter in respect of my email to the local Tory overlord regarding the plan, now implemented it seems, to cut ESA for those in the WRAG by 30%. This cut reduces ESA to the same amount as JSA. The reasoning of course is pernicious: despite these people establishing their case as being unfit for work they are still regarded as being capable of work. I have spoken about this before; the WRAG is just spin because the government still regards these people as being fit for work and capable of 'work related activity', despite being medically found otherwise. Really there should be no need for an WRAG, but the distinction is made because the government feels these are people that can be cured somehow. Even then it goes on, as I say, to disregard their problems.

This time, the response was more than an email. I got a letter with a six page attachment from the Employment Minister - the awful tobacco lobbyist Priti Patel (it really is!). Before I dissect what she says, I will address what the my MP had to say, which, unsurprisingly, isn't very much.

Essentially he makes two points, both of which are bullshit, indicative of the huge disconnect between the Tories and not just the rest of society, but the systems they assume control of.

Firstly he shares the above assumption that ESA WRAG claimants:

"are (by definition) able and expected to look for work."

He hopes I will agree. I do not. These are people that have passed a test, a notoriously onerous and prejudiced test, establishing they have difficulties regarding being able to work. All you are doing is dismissing the problems these people have; this is pure cynicism. This is how you whitewash disability in a capitalist market and this is how you empower divide and rule.

People in the WRAG are not able. They are meant to be placed in this group if their problems are known to be curable (which begs a whole series of other questions). Even the acronym is pernicious: Work Related Activity Group.

The second point made by the local fuhrer asks:

"It's also worth noting that, even though the Lords were happy to vote against their change, they have been strangely silent on how they'd pay for the enormous increase in spending which it would require."

The last part begs the question, but that aside we all know that this can easily be paid for. This doesn't even warrant discussion; the Tories have borrowed beyond even the last government. They've repeatedly peddled austerity and yet cut taxes for those that can afford them and who already receive massive subsidies and benefits. Yes, we can afford this; we have to because these are people that need to be supported if we are to even pretend to be a civilised society.

So there are two (two seems to be the numerical them thus far) conclusions I draw:

1. Support is cut from those who need it most by those with no right to do so. Then, it is argued, that said support cannot be afforded. Given the decision is arbitrary and made without evidence it is akin to burning someone's home and then arguing that repair or replacement cannot be afforded.

2. The WRAG should enable those with 'curable' conditions to receive adequate support, free from constraint or unreasonable demand, such as expectations of recovery made without due care. Instead the conditions experienced by those within are used as weapons against them.

As I mentioned, his response included a six page load of Tory hogwash from the Minister of Employment (it really does). To be honest, most of what she says you've already heard since my MP ultimately agrees with it and summarises it. But there are some parts worthy of note:

The system should not support lifestyles or rents not available to the taxpayers who pay for that system.

Well isn't that handy; eviscerate people's wages and then complain about all those scroungers living it up with their plasma screens and their brand name shoes. Or, consider that the Tories vote for inexplicable and unjustifiable pay rises themselves and apply the same standard...

I believe that it is only fair that those whoa re capable of taking steps to prepare for work receive the same rate of income-replacement benefits as out of work claimants.

Huh? I personally don't care what YOU believe. You were not put into power to materialise your beliefs (though that's just being naive, since that's precisely how representative parliamentary democracy works and why I no longer support it). Not the phrase 'prepare for work'; a nebulous phrase that the reader is encouraged to view as synonymous with looking for work. But it's not the same thing at all and, fundamentally, I do not see any justification of the proposition. Why should such people - again, these are people that are sick and cannot currently work - be arbitrarily financially deprived? Where is the evidence that cutting their income helps them?

I can also confirm that claimants in the ESA WRAG will not be required to carry out the same job seeking activities as a Job seekers Allowance claimant as a result of the is change. However, claimants in the WRAG will continue to be required to undertake work related activity. There is a great deal of flexibility in the types of work related activity that claimants may be asked to participate in and activities must be appropriate and reasonable for each individual claimant taking into account their circumstances.

Unfortunately we know this is bullshit; at best ESA claimants will be required to do exactly the same as JSA. Not least of all because the JC+ and it's allies have not the first clue how to provide a more nuanced and suitable service. Anyone who complains or fails to meet the burden they are set will of course be sanctioned. This is just rhetoric.

It is time to think about how we can improve the way people are assessed for sickness benefits that is less 'binary' and more positive in looking at what people can do and the support they will need to do it.

Sounds wonderful. Sadly that ideal is far from where we are right now. When I was on the Work Programme what I was interested in was completely ignored and mention of mental health immediately dismissed by someone with no idea what he was talking about whatsoever.

Your constituents (sic) particularly mention the difficulties people with mental health conditions face with entering employment (sic). We know that 47 per cent of all ESA claimants have a mental health condition as their primary barrier to work. Being out of, or away from, work can not only sustain the symptoms of a mental health condition but also reinforce negative views about capability and future prospects.

This is capitalist thinking at its most sinister and most ignorant. The reality is that it is not being away from work that is the problem since that begs the question, what is meant when we talk about work. It is being away from community, society and the ability to flourish as fulfilled human beings. Work - of the correct kind - can be part of this. So what is work? It is that which fulfils us and improves society, either adding to knowledge, culture or understanding. But there are further questions about the nature of that work: do people need to be driven away from family and community in economic cages like battery chickens merely to produce profit, keeping nothing they create so as to enrich another? I do not agree.

Mental health is incredibly complex and poorly understood at best. Capitalism only exacerbates those environments that alienate us and so her spiel is idle rhetoric, and ultimately dangerous.

We also know that previous schemes did not do enough for disabled people including those with mental health issues. This is why the Work Programme focuses on giving some of the hardest to help people two years of support as it can be a real struggle to get back into work.

And yet it has proven, as was inevitable, to be a dismal failure that has succeeded only in enriching private sector parasites and sub contractor agencies who are as ticks on the public purse. The Salvation Army, of whom I see no evidence they are in any way suited to this kind of endeavour (beyond a few choice bible verses), were not even the primary provider for me. They subcontracted from 'Rehab Jobfit'. They were the people I was assigned to and yet all they did was sell my contract to the Salvation Army.

Is that the kind of support the Tories mean?

Saturday, 19 March 2016

From The Office Of...1

(I intended to write this before the resignation of Iain Duncan Sauron. That was not something I was expecting and I don't think for one moment it will make any difference to Tory plans. In fact it now frees Osborne to place his own pro-EU man into the post. Consequently this means nothing will really change - not that I believe IDS is the saint he thinks he is).

All you need to know about my MPis that he is a Tory and that he's also the one responsible for culling people from the electoral register. He claims that these are people that are inactive or don't exist any more. I don't trust a Tory and that's why I regularly contact him - usually through the many online petitions and campaign that groups like 38Degrees organise. Fortunately they make it easy enough to do. Even more fortunately, people like my MP respond. When they do so they always claim that 38Degrees are partisan and biased - though entertainingly this has to be done in a friendly way so as not to alienate the constituent. It's pretty transparent though.

His response to my questioning the government's handling of the NHS, particularly in the context of the capitalist maw threatening to swallow our economy known as TTIP, claims that the NHS will be exempt from such an agreement. 

He says:

On whether Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will endanger the NHS, I'm pleased to report that the European Commission has confirmed that TTIP specifically exempts public services like health, and won't require any EU country to open up their national health systems to private providers. A letter from the EU trade Commissioner, Celia Malstrom, to the former UK Trade Minister, Lord Livingston, confirming this is published here: 

This document seems to agree:

To be clear, the effects of the EU's approach to public health services in trade agreements such as TTIP are that: 
• Member States do not have to open public health services to competition from private providers, nor do they have to outsource services to private providers

This of course assumes that the NHS will remain public. That's the elephant in the room: we all know the Tories are hell for leather intent on privatising as much as possible - and this now includes the wholesale academisation of the school system as announced in the budget. So while public services may be exempt, there's no guarantee those services will remain public. Furthermore the comment from Celia Malstrom says that member states can still choose to open up public health services. Given that it's highly likely the Tories will, even if the NHS remains public, they will still allow TTIP to screw with it.

He continues:

 In spite of all the political rhetoric about competition and privatisation, almost every GP practice in the country has been a private, profit-making company (or partnership) since the NHS was first created back in 1948. Of course (and rightly) no-one suggests they should be excluded from the NHS as a result; in fact GP practices are usually held to be one of the crown jewels in British healthcare.

He assumes I want GP practices to be private and profit making. I don't.


So I'm happy to say the e-mail you've been asked to send me is basically wrong (and rather party political too, I'm afraid). And I fear it shows that 38 degrees' claims to be an apolitical organisation are pretty silly - from all the emails I've received so far, their briefings to their members are frequently one-sided, and overwhelmingly left-wing, even if they aren't officially affiliated with any specific political party. I suppose it just proves the old saying, that we can't believe everything we read in the papers - or, nowadays, on the internet either!

No, sir, it's not wrong. You've just put a spin on it that suits your party's agenda; thus it's pretty ironic to make accusations of bias. I've made no claims as to whether 38Degrees are non-partisan. In fact I don't want them to be; I want them to oppose your politics (and you are hardly non-partisan either) from a strong ideological centre, just like me - that's why I agree with them!

So yes, I'm non-partisan. I'm not interested in a facile notion of 'balance'. I want you, your party, and your politics, gone. Balance only exists in the feeble minds of media pundits who seem to think that discussions about important issues can be reduced to a 1v1 discussion, regardless of the strength of evidence on either side.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

The Day That Arrived

And so it came: a letter from the DWP accompanied by an assessment form.

Capability For Work Questionnaire, ESA50. 20 pages of questions I will be unable to answer sufficiently that are required to be completed and returned by 7th of April. This is barely enough time to even be seen by my GP, even though doing so will be a waste of time.

I knew this day would come. Hardly a surprise, but still not what you want dropping through the letter box; although - and perhaps deliberately - not in a brown envelope.

Part of me is relieved. Unfortunately that part is tiny and is overwhelmed by the massive black hole of uncertainty now filling up my soul. There is no way I'm going to pass this test so what are my options?

Firstly it needs to be understood that nothing written on this form will convince them to forego a medical assessment in person. This experience will presumably be held at the local venue I attended initially; a place run by an incredibly abrasive and hostile administrator who cares not that people have to wait nor for how long. Appointments are booked without consideration for difficulties incurred or inconvenience. The amount of ID required to actually be seen when you do attend transcends that required to convince a national bank that you are not a terrorist nor money launderer.

I have no chance of persuading an assessor (and the person I saw last time, once I got past the reception desk and the aforementioned administrator, was pleasant enough). Am I wasting my time even attending? If so, why bother filling in the form. The only reason is to buy time.

I have a small window within which to fill this form in, certainly compared to last time. Am I wasting my time even doing this if not, again, to buy time. I do not know how long processing this form will take: this could itself be months, though it is probably safer to assume it's a matter of weeks if not days. The process has changed (as has the government, more's the pity) which means these assessments are held by Maximus, not ATOS. Whether they are more or less efficient is unknown to me. I notice that a completed form is sent to Wolverhampton, which is nowhere near me. Thus it's safe to assume this is some kind of clearing process. From there I assume they are sent to the relevant assessment centre and appointments are arranged. These appointments cannot be changed - I tried that before and, despite two separate ATOS agents telling me I could, I almost lost my benefit. I only wanted to change it by a couple of weeks, hardly being evasive.

This is simply a matter of time; if I have an assessment there is no way on earth I will pass, no matter how pleasant the assessor's demeanour. The reason these considerations are important isn't simply about playing for time, it's about dealing with uncertainty and maximising my resources, If (when) I lose my ESA I lose my income. I have to know how I can support myself afterwards - never mind having to deal with any subsequent claim for JSA (or Universal Credit, as it will in fact be). Never mind that, I simply cannot cope with going back to the jobcentre, and, thanks to First Bus, it's highly likely I won't be able to since they removed the only bus that went there. Now we have a minimal private coach service whose provision is so spartan it will be impossible to meet the demands JC+ place on signing times, which will not be flexible nor negotiable.

At this point I'm not even sure if there's any point visiting my GP again. She is not going to be able to help, in fact I doubt she is even going to want to help. Anything work related - or rather benefit related - and they are like vampires in sunlight. This is all because of the prevailing social attitudes; work is the great panacea (except when it is not, and assuming you can find any), and 'sick' people are just making excuses, particularly people who are suffering from mental health issues.

There will be no support offered, there hasn't been so far.

There are no systems that can address help finding work, particularly for people that have been unemployed a lot and have a history of what will be seen as minor mental health issues.

Yet these issues are persistent and real, certainly to me - to whom it matters. I have failed to acquire a diagnosis of any kind, which is the biggest problem. No one will be willing to provide supporting material. Even then, what good would that do? In the end I do not see any future at all. Having to deal once again with signing on fills me with more dread than I can imagine and using that Universal Jobmatch system to try and find work is an exercise in futility. The site is so catastrophically designed.

Where support is needed it is not provided and in its place is scorn and suspicion. People are assumed to be able to cope and if they can't they are just making excuses. I do not know which way forward to go.

Third Sector Stupidity

I've sent a number of tweets, on behalf of grassroots online campaigns, to various third sector groups. This is because these campaigns are doing their best to highlight the injustices and/or hypocrisy now sadly rampant in the hierarchies
of these organisations.

That's not to say I don't support voluntary work/charity work; nor is it to say that I think ordinary people volunteering with the best of intentions should be harassed. Certainly no more than they are exploited by some of these groups.

So I have always kept an eye on the website which is a repository of local (perhaps national, I only know of them locally) volunteer vacancies. Unfortunately they require that you sign up in order to peruse their database. Why this is necessary I do not know; do they make money off of this? Is it the Go Compare of volunteer work.

What's even more unfortunate is that not only does their site not work and I cannot log in at all (it keeps telling me my user details are incorrect, even when i change them), I find they have blocked me on twitter. This suggests that they have me blocked as a user.

Is this what happens when you speak out? Are the third sector capitalists so insecure they can't take legitimate criticism? Since I can't contact them, I can't find out why I can't log in.