Tuesday, 13 August 2019

After the Test

Why is keeping a blog so difficult? When you find doing things difficult then doing a thing is difficult. Procrastination is temptation. It is no solution. Filling in the ESA50 is a lot like this. I can do it, but I sure as hell can't do it all at once - and I don't want to.

Last Monday (the 5th) was the date for my latest WCA. Uncharacteristically, it actually happened. There was no postponement, although the doctor himself (assuming that he is properly qualified) was late. This, last, irony has blown my mind. I'm now left so ambivalent by all this that I just feel nothing. Of course this will change whence cometh the inevitable outcome. I'm told to expect this within 4-6 weeks. That, however, is a statement with no content whatsoever. It could arrive today. I have no way of knowing. In fact this is one of the defining features for people living on ESA. You cannot make arrangements nor plan. I have saved the majority of my income for precisely that reason. Consequently it has deprived me of the opportunity to use that income practically. Or even frivolously. How does that make any sense.

I arrived on time. If I hadn't there would have been consequences the least of which would have been a very extended spell in the dismal waiting room. When the doctor arrives late it's just a fact of modern life (public trains) and I have to lump it. No sanction for him of course.

I have no idea what the guy's qualifications were or are. I have no idea if he has any experience as an optician or eye doctor. However that is the reason why I had to be seen by him; a process that has taken two years and numerous lies (which have netted me a grand total of twenty five whole pounds in compensation! Generous, no?) to get to this point. Ultimately it didn't matter because, despite the presence of testing material (various eye charts), not once did he bother to test me. Wait, that's not true: he did test whether my legs work ok. They do. At no point in my claim have I ever reported mobility or lower limb problems. Ever.

It is pretty clear that the reason I, and presumably others, need a particular flavour of assessor is to cover their own arses. It's insurance. That way the inevitable (because the testing process is still shit) complaints about skating over reported issues can be met with a firmer response: your assessor was properly qualified in optometry/sight. Maximus (the corporation running these tests) calls this 'government training'. At least that's what they told me. Clearly that's bullshit because that implies the process would involve testing the relevant area of contention. But since that didn't happen, anyone - including the first person I saw at the outset of this nonsense - could have have tested me. It's a standardised process. However the particular person that did has government training allowing Maximus to cover their backside against a complaint I might (inevitably have to) make regarding them not actually testing my eyes.

I could go on, but really all there is to say is that this standardised test is such a simplistic tool. It is administered, not by actual doctors, but by a profit making corporate entity. They cannot - they are functionally incapable - of delivering the kind of process that's needed. You might as well ask a blind person what the sky looks like. This is just a procedure, a revenue stream, to these people. Doctors should be running this, if it must exist at all, but they all refuse. They don't want to get their hands dirty. I find that pretty damning really; a doctor is OK with life or death situations and diagnosing incurable diseases, but they draw the line at reporting whether someone is fit for work. That implies they, the BMA for instance, believe the likes of Maximus are better at it than they. That is nonsense.

Ultimately this standardised test is simply to outline what you do on a typical day. When do you rise, do you put your socks on, do you make your breakfast, what time do you feed the dog? It's intended to determine what you can or can't do. This is an approach that is devoid of any meaningful context. Whether or not you experience difficulty is ignored, it's disastrously binary. Either you can go to the shop and buy a pack of eggs (in other words, you can go to any shop, anywhere, at any time, and buy anything, no matter the conditions), or you can't. The nature of the shop, it's familiarity, distance, and ease of use, is ignored. I go for a walk during the day, out in the quiet country;I might as well have confessed to being capable of running the London Marathon or handling bustling Times Square at News Years Eve.

This is how we examine whether or not people can function in society. It gives no indication of anything and just exists because of bootstrap bullshit magic thinking. If you have issues they are ignored because if you can put on a pair of socks at some point during the day, you can hold down a full time job consistently. No matter what the job is, whether its worthwhile or well paid.

This is the life.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

This is the End, beautiful friend...

I fear this will be long. That's not my only fear, of course. But I will attempt brevity. Me um word good.

Last week I received the first of two letters from the DWP. Instantly I knew. Senses honed through years of dealing with the DWP have taught me to know. Something about the particular shape or shade of the envelope; the sound it makes on the doormat through the letterbox. Even the time of day the postman arrives. These are all tells. You just know.

I have what will now be attempt #4 at a WCA on the 19th at 9am. I also have a WFI (work focussed interview) on the 23rd. The latter is at the jobcentre, a place no longer served by a direct bus route. Not that such facts are taken into consideration of course. These appointments are booked without consultation on your behalf.

In the case of the former I was supposed to get what would be the second attempt at a home visit. This was agreed after WCA attempt #1 failed due to the correct 'healthcare professional' wasn't on hand. I was, they weren't. Of course their system simply cannot process the consequences for the subject in such a circumstance. They are of course apologetic, as statite requires, but it means nothing when you have to go through it all again. I asked instead for a home visit to be considered.

At first that wasn't the case, until it was. They sent me another assessment centre-based appointment and then told me, upon arrival, I wasn't supposed to be seen there and that I was to get a home visit. that visit didn't happen until over a year later, this March. That's when the fun begins, so it would appear.

They were supposed to rebook the appointment. When I contacted them to find out why they didn't arrive the human facsimile I spoke to passively aggressively gave me two choices: either rebook (it's all so simple, just like a minor calculation, no emotion required), or have my case referred back to the DWP. Clearly the former, in the context of a Hobson's choice, was preferable.

Only that didn't happen. It turns out that, despite my preference, they chose the latter. The DWP received it in April and sent it back to the WCA people in May with one exception. They attached what I've just discovered is a "PV marker". What's that you ask? It means "potentially violent"! At the risk of virtue signalling, this has left me gobsmacked. Not once have I ever behaved that way to the DWP nor the WCA. (Of course they themselves operate through violence: the violence of poverty.)

The DWP have, for some reason, decided that home visits are now verboten because of this marker. It didn't exist before when a home visit was meant to happen. It cannot happen now. They won't tell me why this has been attached without a written letter of request (I need to request a "Dataprint"). The WCA won't tell me why they referred it back claiming that the DWP know why, but they don't. When pushed (because they are obviously caught in a lie) they said that they can choose to refer cases back to the DWP instead of rebooking regardless of the subject's preference. What I wanted didn't matter and, as a result of their decision, I now cannot get the home visit they agreed and indeed booked two years ago. Had they even bothered to attend (and I still don't know why that never happene) this would all have been done and dusted. I have lodged a formal complaint.

Unfortunately none of this changes the fact I am compelled to attend. If I don't I will need to give satisfactory reasons and if they aren't satisfactory enough, my benefit will be stopped. Likewise if I don't attend the WFI.

The WCA people have screwed up royally and cost me the preferred method of resolving this for no good reason. Or at least no good reason they are willing to offer. The only explanation I can find for why this PV marker exists is because, on my ESA50 form, among the mental health issues outlined was an expressed tendency to frustration and upset in situations I find difficult (such as getting the royal runaround from the DWP/WCA). But that wasn't enough to warrant this marker being placed at any point prior. At least not to my knowledge. If it had I wouldn't have gotten a home visit in the first place.

It doesn't really matter. This process isn't about support. How can it be when people that have violent tendencies are automatically denied the right kind of assessment? What if such a person has other conditions (prevailing Psychosis of Schizophrenia for instance) that preclude a centre based assessment? Are they supposed to just turn up and that the staff are ok because Big Dave the security guard will protect them if the subject kicks off? What does that say about how we are still treating people with severe mental health issues of the kind just described? It's akin to institutionalising them.

Then of course there is the power disparity; one of the biggest failings of this system. Our entire system, not just benefits, is predicated on it. The ruling class versus the 99%. The working class versus the capitalists, and the latter are in control with a system modelled on archaic notions and concepts. A person in a corporate suit with a clipboard determines the validity of your experience on the basis of a tick box exercise, one they can deploy as they see fit with no accountability. Sure I can make a complaint (and have done), but to what end? What compels them to honour that? If our system doesn't encourage good honest and moral (in the sense we don't let the poor struggle) conduct, then black and white rules mean nothing. Not when the subject has no power but to implore to the party he's accusing to abide by them. They police themselves with no interest in jeopardising their position. I might get an apology, perhaps even a couple of quid. To them it will mean nothing, just a few expenses they can write off. To me it will mean nothing because I can't live on it.

This power disparity must be challenged and dismantled. It cannot be justified. Mental health is experiential in my view. It isn't like a broken leg: something that, while painful, can be seen and measured in a very real sense. You can't see emotional distress, tension, frustration, psychosis nor schizophrenia. You can't measure paranoia. You can't weigh the struggle a person feels at the 'wrongness' he experiences in his life. You have to listen to that person, accept them, and work with them. That starts with building a society that accepts an honours that experience and makes it part of the social fabric. Not a society that marginalises and denies them participation in the most fundamental and necessary of ways.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

A Very British Antisemitism, Day, er, 5?

Racism is shit. Racists are shit. Antisemitism is racism. Antisemites are shit.

It seems required of us, those that aren't right wing apologists, to mention this. It's like an ideological ID check. Just run the anti-Semitic credentials through the computer to see how they shape up to the definition. Does that sound trivial? It ought not, but what other reaction can one have when these accusations are bandied about so freely? Do those doing so not realise the danger; that haphazard accusations are threatening to become transparent and risk trivialising the very real problem of racism?

Then of course there is the elephant in the room: the state of Israel. A state that, clearly and demonstrably, engages in racist murderous behaviour.

Perhaps I shouldn't say this, antisemitism isn't a joke. Racism isn't a joke. We are seeing a rise in fascism as capitalism collapses. It has no answer to structural challenges but to double down on divisive ideologies: us and them. Usually along national lines.

But...I am fed up with the pearl clutching from the establishment. The rhetoric surrounding Labour and Corbyn is so toxic that discourse is impossible. Of course it's ridiculous to assert Labour are institutionally antisemitic. By what proof? If that were true then it would have been true for a lot longer than the period Corbyn has been leader. Thus it is abundantly clear that this is being used now to oppose him, which tells me the motives of those deploying these claims. It is political.

Now that isn't to say that there aren't people in the Labour party and wider movement who are or at least have used antisemitic rhetoric. That of course should be challenged and dealt with. I would hope such people can be approached and educated. Much of it, I think, stems from the characteristically defensive underdog position that the left is on. It is not in a position of authority and power whereas ideas such as Zionism - specifically Israel - are inexplicably bound up with the systems of power in the world. It is an ally of the capitalist imperialist, and largely white christian, west. It has interest groups throughout the western world, including within the Labour party. There is thus a response to that which, inchoate and raw, isn't without some justification.

However we must of course be careful. It is too easy a step to make from this defensive, almost conspiratorial (see 911 truthers), mindset into amplifying dangerous stereotypes, for example propagating the notion that the "jews run the world". These are beloved of the right, particularly fascists, for a reason. They help cement that "us and them" narrative that entrenches late capitalist state power. "Jews are the problem": the perennial bogeyman motif into which Jews have sadly historically been placed.

Things currently though are not so simple. While fascism is on the rise and while antisemitism is part of its DNA it, in the sense of opposing the left, is also happy to use claims of antisemitism to beat its political opponents. This is largely opportunistic and of course quite hypocritical, but no less dangerous. We must recognise this, but at the same time not give succour to those that deploy antisemitism incorrectly, smearing people on the left unjustly for political gain. Of course as an anarchist I reject the political dichotomy that capitalism supports (though you'd be foolish not to call me a lefty, in broad terms :D). That way lies division, and it will never truly free us.

Thursday, 30 May 2019

A Very Owen Jones Armageddon, Day 3

So everyone's favourite lefty, Owen Jones, wrote an article today saying, unbelievably, that Labour needs to recalibrate by getting Ed Miliband back!

Now, I may have misread the article. Perhaps it's a level of satire that has eluded me.

But Miliband? The sap that lost Labour the election in 2015 after five years of misery under the coalition? How does that happen? By the way, Miliband has yet to face a tenth of the grief that Corbyn receives for scoring an own goal like this. There's no reason at all for him to have lost other than the fact he's a neoliberal. That is the absolute last thing we need!

Also, to be fair, Jones posits an alternative in the form of Laura Pidcock. A better choice by leagues to be sure, but there's now way that will happen given that she's still too green. Even so...

What is Owen Jones thinking? This is his position following the EU elections. So in truth, he's just another centrist. I think he's pretty feeble to be honest. I pointed out earlier, when discussing his meetings with the Brexit party crowd, that he was completely out of his depth. When they responded to his presence he just bumbled and dodged. Why couldn't he ask more probing questions than "why are you here?". What did he think the answer would be? They are here to "take the country back" to react to the "brexit betrayal". He's face to face with proto fascist thinking, hyperbole and jingoistic bluster (the use of terms like betrayal and treachery), and he has nothing he can think of better to ask?

How about putting to these people the rank hypocrisies of their leader? How about pointing out the hypocrisy of wanting to take the power...only to hand it over to the aristocracy in Westminster? Do they want the NHS privatised? Do they want people starving and living on the streets? We will never know unless people ask.

I just don't get this at all. Of course the real answer is to reject all these politicians. Corbyn's a decent guy, I don't think he's a millionaire psychopath happy to sell guns to warmongers or starve children, but he's also beholden to a system he errantly beleives can be reformed. This won't, can't, and mustn't happen. Instead capitalism should be dismantled. It is the only answer. He will soon find, if he takes office, just how sharp the knives of the capitalist class will be when they cut his ability to achieve anything. Then it wilbe the Tories who swoop back in to 'save' the country from another Labour 'mess'. Mark my words.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

A Very British Armageddon Day 2

Let us turn now to Mr Alistair Campbell. He has recently, by which I mean yesterday, been evicted from the Labour party. Firstly a couple of considerations:
1. Corbyn doesn't get to decide this.
2. Labour must go further. If it only picks on Campbell, however deserved (and it is), then it looks weak in my view.

So by the standards applied here there are few from the old days of New Labour who don't deserve the chop. Of course they are now encircling the wagons. They don't want their seat on the gravy train to be troubled. This means that sooner or later, hopefully the former, Blair has to go. If the standard is voting for a rival party (a reasonable excuse surely) then where does that leave Blair who has openly called for such, perhaps not in so many words.

This of course doesn't begin to address the war crimes of both men. Campbell has, in my view, serious questions to ask. Remember Dr Kelly? Now I don't want to entertain lurid conspiracy theories, but at the very least the pressure exerted on that man, at a time when Campbell was implicit in banging the drum for war, drove him to suicide. That's the best case scenario! Should I speculate on anything further?

However, Campbell, despite his protestations of loyalty (which don't mean much when you're voting for a rvial party), was never elected. He represents no one but himself. He's a spin doctor. He was the inspiration for Malcolm Tucker for god's sake! This man has no business in an organised group supposed to be representing the working class. What part of that does he represent? Elected by whom?

Isn't the era of the spin doctor now over? The media lies so much in general and across the board that these people are largely out of a job now anyway. Youtube propagandists, twitter loons, and facebook groups filled with the dregs of humanity seem to have replaced them. That and the everyday bias shown by the politician class at the BBC. Surely there are better representatives for the Labour party than Alistair bloody Campbell!

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

A very British Armageddon, Day 1

My last post was over two months ago. This is pathetic.

I actually find it genuinely difficult doing this, which isn't a good look for someone who wants to do this and thinks he's good at writing. But that's the nature of mental health and how it can affect people. It doesn't inhibit their aspiration, but their function. When that fact goes up against the prevailing culture, it's values of effort and particular work ethos, there is a disconnect. This doesn't help.

Anyway, if you're reaidng this then I'm very grateful.

Where are we now? Something big just happened, what was it again?

Oh that's right. Britain and the world continues its shift to the right. The collapse of capitalism seems historically commensurate with the rise of fascism. Or fascism and crisis are intertwined. A simplistic analysis to be sure, but one look at the Guardian video of Owen Jones' encounter with the Brexit Party shows this. Unfortunately Owen handles this poorly: he's easily rebuked (by idiots, to be sure) and doesn't really ask any insightful questions. Louis Theroux (or even Louis Thorough) he is not. But that's not really the issue: I'm pointing to the attitudes of these people. Their sense of oppression and highly emotive angular responses point to the same kind of attitudes you saw in Germany. Perhaps we aren't quite that bad, but the point is made. These people see 'the left' as a monolith, they all but use the phrase 'cultural marxism' (a code for anyone opposing their views). They feel beleaguered. The EU wants to do them down. The left wants to do them down. They can't speak their mind (say racist/regressive shit)?

These are not reasoned positions, they are the product of propaganda and coercion. The Brexit Party campaign was based around hysterical tropes, and the Brexit campaign was fought using lies and racism. There's no easy way out of this, but surely we don't have to support and give succoour to these deeply embedded roots. This very English racism.

I see this as a new start. Not perhaps in the positive way one normally associates with that phrase, but something has shifted. Not perhaps Brexit itself, which is still a monorail to disaster. I don't think we can realistically leave, despite recognising how dis-empowering the EU is. It's a bosses club - but look who we give power to if we leave. Look who it will be now that professional scarecrow and compassion-free reactionary, Theresay May, is on the way out; her demise greaased by a sudden, uncharacteristic moment of tears. Something must have gotten into her withered eye sockets, dust in a Dalek's eyestalk, because she found nothing similar when working class people were burned to death, nor at the plight of child poverty, nor Windrush. You get the (horrific) picture.

It's a new start, hopefully for this blog, and me. That's weird, but I'm trying to put words to a feeling. It's a bit like turning off the main road and coming on to the motorway. The final stretch you mght say. I'm alluding to Brexit, but also, perhaps, the demise of not just the Tories (please god), but our horrific political system. Something has shifted with these election results and it may get worse before it gets better. The centre is evaporating (which is amusing if you're a CUK schadenfreude enthusiast like me). Unfortunately though that does mean, it seems, an emboldening of fascism, of the rise of the far right.

It's happening in Italy it seems (where the EU has fucked over their budget, the sort of politics that plays into fascist notions of sovereignty and oppression). Here it manifests with the darkly fascinating rise of the Brexit Party. Specifically, who is funding them. I have no doubt Farage is being funded by some throughly dodgy specimens, one of which we surely know about, Arron Banks. A grotesque little tyrant. The sort that can only exist under capitalism.

We must resist. We must recognise that neither Westminster nor the EU are desirable options, and we must not give our power over to tyrants from either side. It's only the working class - the people - who can save us now. I think what Labour needs to do is fight for working class internationalist interests, a lexit. A second referendum will not produce a decisive result and further deepen an already wounded working class.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Strike Three?

Where to begin: it's amazing how nothing happening can produce such tension and thought.

So yesterday I was supposed to have a home visit from the WCA people - supposed to, guess what didn't happen.

This would have been their third attempt after initially telling me -at the assessment centre - I needed to be seen by a doctor because I presented with eyesight issues. No one showed up. It was only after I rang them I learned the assessor had called it a day for 'personal reasons'. In other words, we ain't telling you shit. That they knew this and hadn't bothered to let me know says it all really.

Imagine treating people like that. Imagine dealing with people with conditions severe or less so; people that suffer anxiety, stress, etc, and this is the best you can manage. Is that not unacceptable? It should be!

So let's unpack this. First some context: my first go was Autumn of 2017 Despite a summons, the assessment was cancelled on the spot; because I had reported eyesight issues a doctor was required. Of course there wasn't one available and nobody had bothered to read the case notes. I then asked for a home visit and mentioned that this would need to be carefully arranged due to my living arrangements.

I was summoned back just before Christmas. I just assumed they'd ignored my home visit request, but in fact I wasn't booked in at all: I was on the list for a home visit. Only no one saw fit to actually inform me. Dealing with the assessment centre is stressful. Not least of all because everyone else present is a mirror reflecting your own stress, while tinpot Hitlers press home minute issues. One poor guy was threatened with being sent back because he'd said the wrong thing in respect of being made to wait. And wait you will. Even the security guard ended up taking his side. Persuading the receptionist, a veritable human emotional Medusa, was like pulling teeth it seemed.

This is no place for the infirm.

So I've been waiting, suffering traumatic post stress disorder invoked by the sound of a letterbox. What could be more absurd? No idea when or where I'd be seen except a fortnight prior to the appointment. That's the notice you're given of an impending assessment at a time of their choosing. The appointments are block booked a month or so at a time (or so I was told). You are not a part of that process and yet you are the focus. We have no say in our fate today.

I got a phone call at 9-30am from the assessor asking if I'd like to be seen an hour early because her first appointment had already finished. I said no because I only had the house to myself from 11. She agreed and said she'd see me then. I then spend the entire morning stressing like a beast, climbing the wall and staring out the window like a caged animal or a kid on Christmas eve. This isn't a good place to be. In these situations your own home becomes a different place. It was only at 2pm that I rang them and discovered what I mentioned above.

I find myself sceptical about that phone call. Again, I don't know what happened, but had she seen me at 10am - as she requested - it's very possible that appointment would have had to be abandoned for the same reasons. What a mess. It's entirely possible of course her phone call was genuine, but my mind is racing and I'm joining the dots!

I mentioned above that I needed to be seen by a doctor. On the letter it tells me the name of the person that's coming to visit me. There is no prefix to that indicating a title of any kind. Now again this may be my racing mind, but I checked online to see if that person was registered as either a doctor or an optician (you can actually do this). I'm not going to mention her name here but it's not an uncommon name. I got zero results. I know the search facility works because I double checked using other names. Now this is hardly conclusive but I'm not convinced this person actually meets their own criteria for this process! I suppose there's little I can do about this.

So I'm having a conversation with their office about all this. Naturally this is an officious conversation; you can sense the attitude of the staffperson. They imperceptibly bristle when you raise a problem. You can hear it in the tone when they inform me that they can't inform me of what exactly has happened - not even in general or vague terms (if possible). They offer a perfunctory bureaucratic not-sorry apology. It's officious it isn't informative and it certainly isn't caring.

My only option is for them to rebook the appointment; to them I'm just a piece of dry cleaning. I have no more emotions than a dirty piece of formal attire. I'm a wedding gown with spilt wine. I'm not a human being repeatedly undergoing a situation I find very stressful. Let me also be clear: there are people far worse off than I that, in a similar situation (and there will be people in similar situations), will just shatter. The booking process is similarly mechanical: they seem to 'block book'. Staffperson tells me that all their 'doctors' are booked until April, so I don't anticipate (probably a mistake) hearing until the start of next month. But who knows? It's back to dreading the sound of the letterbox.

I tried explaining just how stressful this is and, in a supreme example of aforementioned superciliousness (beat that dictionary corner!), am asked: "so you want us to close your case and refer it back to the DWP?".

That is passive aggressive and disingenuous. They know exactly what happens them and I try to prise an admission of that from them. Of course their reply is equally non-committal: "it's up to the DWP what happens, we don't know". Yeah you do: if a claim gets referred back it will certainly be closed - who knows what reasons they will give the DWP for their actions? I tell the staffperson that three attempts is too stressful I can't deal with another (I doubt it'll be a year before they write back!), but that falls on deaf ears. What would the DWP make of that reason? What can they?

And that is the problem. What can they do? It's a machine. It cannot understand human capacity or feeling. That you find it stressful is totally irrelevant. You either go through it or you close your claim - thereby tacitly admitting you are work-capable anyway (proving the point in their eyes). This system does not work because it cannot work. It is inimical to the problems it's designed to highlight. In fact so far gone is this broken system that to even describe it thus is to imply it can be fixed - it can't. It must, immediately, be completely and utterly scrapped. Dropped like a hot plate.

Also, don't forget these assessments are carried out on the public purse. We already know that the cost is more than the savings in terms of means testing people's benefits. But the reality is that a large corporate entity receives hundreds of millions. A portion of that, called profit, is immediately trousered, beyond the minimum they are prepared to spend to run the scheme.

This is a perfect example of capitalism's failings: in order to maintain their bottom line, they will only invest the minimum they feel necessary to provide this service. I don't even know if they pay the assessor's mileage for home visits! It's a giant corporate scam, and the worst part is that the staff, all of whom will have some connection with the medical sector perhaps in a previous life, could be working for the NHS. They could actually be doing some good, but instead they are economically persuaded away. That is outrageous; it's gutting the health service to fund ideological means testing.

This post is already long enough, more on this as my mindpsace congeals into something resembling coherency.

After the Test

Why is keeping a blog so difficult? When you find doing things difficult  then doing a thing is difficult.  Procrastination is temptation. I...