Monday, 18 April 2011

Amateur Atos Assessors

Please note that this post isn't meant to be a dig at any of the individual people I've had this conversation with, it's a comment on the social situation when everybody feels the conversation is appropriate. So if you know me IRL and have had this conversation with me: I'm not being mean about you personally; I promise.

I've had a bit of a weird weekend. Quite impressively my health held up for 3 consecutive days; usually a sure fire way to guarantee to be ill on any particular day is to make plans to do something. I've had a lovely time, I've hung out with old friends, met some excellent new people, and consumed more cream cakes than I can count.

The weird bit about the weekend was the number of people that called me "intelligent". It's a little bit weird because I'm really not that smart. I think I just talk a lot and with that many words coming out some of them are bound to be a bit clever; and people remember the smart stuff and not "I just spilt orange juice down my own back." (A tip for the hypermobiles: Just because you're flexible enough to pick up the glass of orange juice on the shelf behind you without turning round to look at it doesn't mean it's a good idea.)

The other weird thing about being repeatedly called "intelligent" this weekend is that in daily life I constantly have it implied that I'm not at all. I'm not talking about that common stereotype that people with physical impairments must also have a cognitive impairment, I'm talking about something much more specific than that: I'm talking about the people that keep suggesting ideas for how I might be able to manage to work, as if I'm so stupid that I haven't thought through even the most glaringly obvious of options.

As I've mentioned before, I used to be a stand-up comic. Three and a half years ago - figuring my health problems were only temporary and that shortly down the line there'd be some treatment for me - I made the decision to quit before I pissed off every promoter in the country. On average I'm too ill to function around 2 days every fortnight, which would result in me having to cancel a hell of a lot of gigs at the last minute. It doesn't matter if you have a legitimate medical reason for dropping out; if you put a promoter in a tight spot by leaving them with a gap in their bill they're going to deem you "unreliable" and never book you again. And they'll probably bad mouth you to every promoter they meet.

So figuring my health was just a temporary glitch I made the decision to quit before I alienated all promoters, with the hopes that when I got better I'd be able to return and have people willing to book me. Except I haven't got better so if I were to return now I'd very swiftly find myself unbookable.

But people seem to think I'm an idiot who hasn't thought about (and doesn't think daily about) this and they come out with lines like "but surely you could just book a few gigs here and there?" (I refer you to my statement in my opening paragraph about how making plans is basically an illness guarantor.)

I also get people who seem to think that quitting stand up was a crisis of confidence, or at least that's what I derive from the statement "you should go back to it! You're really funny!"

The next question again assumes I'm stupid; the next question is always, always, "well why don't you write?"

"Because editors expect you to be able to meet deadlines..."

"Oh, yeah. I hadn't thought of that."

So do these people really, honestly, think that I'm smart enough to write but too stupid for the idea of writing for a living to have occurred to me? Or is there something else going on? I think it's the latter.

The current government and media campaign to demonise those claiming benefits seems to have turned everyone into an amateur Atos assessor. The "they're all fakers" propaganda is so pervasive that even people who'd like to think of themselves as left of centre (and, you know, not a cunt) feel qualified to make judgements on a person's fitness to manage to work because they're constantly being told that everyone can manage some kind of work if they really try.

These are people who (I hope!) don't deliberately and consciously think "Lisa's not really ill, she's just lazy," but because of the daily news stories and government briefings about how we're all skivers find themselves thinking it subconsciously. And this rhetoric is so dominant that a couple of months ago I was having a conversation with one of the most leftie and politically aware people in the country who said "now, Incapacity Benefit. That's the one with the huge fraud problem, right?" Despite the fact that the official fraud rate for IB is around 1% (see page 8 of this DWP report). That's just how ubiquitous the bullshit is.

Having to deal with actual Atos assessors is stressful and worrying enough without our friends and acquaintances thinking that they have the right to judge our fitness for work and make assessments about the kind of work we could be doing. Just because you read in the Daily Mail that we're all fakers doesn't mean it's true...


  1. Yes. People must believe that we don't want to work. Most of us (in my experience) have spent vast amounts of time and energy trying to figure out ways to keep working. The Government keeps producing documents saying things like "employment is beneficial to self-respect", well yes, it is, so those of us who just cannot do it are already suffering in that way, without being constantly reminded, pestered and patronised, thank you very much.

  2. I lose count of the number of times I have made some ill-conceived attempt at a return to work which has resulted in 2 days of reasonable success followed by day 3 I've given up having lunch, day 4 I've given up having any meals at all, in week 2 I have to start using my holidays to reduce my hours so I don't take too many sick days, by week 3 I always end up having a total physical breakdown and being rescued by my mother who restores me to the world where people wash, eat, drink and generally don't come home from working 14 hours a week and spend the rest of the time passed out on the floor in a pile of laundry.

    I keep thinking I've got it and I never have. Seriously, whatever it is you are not the first person to think of it. I've tried self-employed - people tend to want you to produce a product when THEY want it, not when your body will allow you to produce it. Christmas cards the following June anyone?

    I can get up and have breakfast and get dressed ORI can go to work, don't ask me to do both. I've seen how it ends.

  3. Even disabled people who are in work get this shit. Because of a mental health condition, I work from home a minimum of two days a week, with an agreement that I'll work from home more days if I'm unwell - but if I use those extra days, there are people who will cross question me about the necessity. And I get really sick of it.

  4. A-Marathon-Not-Sprint-Sarah-Mead-overcame-MS-symptoms-run-London-Marathon.html
    So now we can 'overcome' MS? news to me..I wish she could see 12 year down the line-I could have ran a marathon 13 years ago ,when I had been diagnosed for five minutes. Doesn't it make you sick to stomach the way the MS Society sugar coat MS?

  5. Yep. The recognition that there are NO jobs that pay anything where you can choose your own hours according to your level of energy, don't have to conform to what management and the rest of the workforce expect (on their terms not yours) and are resourced so that you can manage physically/mentally - just seems to bypass most people.

    ...And if you can type on a keyboard that doesn't mean anybody will give you a job as there's thousands of ab folk out there who can do all the other office tasks as well. So then they reduce the level of benefit so that any extra heating costs, dietary requirements, mobility aid upkeep have to come out of JSA at £65 a week.

    I teach in a Special School. I look at the kids who'll be leaving next year to go out in the world and have to deal with this crap - it's enough to make you cry.

  6. This is a behaviour I find very upsetting - probably more upsetting than more negative comments, because it so often occurs to me that you know, maybe, somehow, I could find a way of making a living out of one of the things I can do. And honestly, it is my gameplan. One day, I will find a way...

    Also, these things almost devalue our talents. Like your funniness - if you are entertaining people, you are entertaining people. In your case, you have a better idea of what you would otherwise be capable of, but it isn't like it counts for less because you're not being paid for it - people don't laugh less. If I paint a picture or make something or write something, then that's a big achievement for me. When someone (naive or unimaginative) says I should be making money out of it, it makes me feel almost like it counts for less because I haven't.

    And people really do have no imagination. A friend of mine with ME was recently informed by a family member that she could easily make a living if she set up business selling things for people on eBay...

  7. >>>>> These are people who (I hope!) don't deliberately and consciously think "Lisa's not really ill, she's just lazy," but because of the daily news stories and government briefings about how we're all skivers find themselves thinking it subconsciously.<<<<<

    This is what worries me, as much as the people who consciously believe we're all rotten fakers - the people whose attitudes are being subtly moulded by that stuff without them even realising. They carry on thinking of themselves as really, really liberal, like the uber-leftie you mention in your post.

    Without it even being discussed; without it being a question that's had a proper societal dialogue, people have developed attitudes regarding disabled people, and disability, and society's interaction with disability, that are very conservative indeed. And people cannot recognise that conservatism within themselves because it conflicts with their self-identity.

    That's part of why we're in such deep trouble - it's not just that the conservatives are attacking us; it's that there isn't a big, widespread, unequivocal liberal backlash to that attack.

  8. We all want to work its good for the mind and the body, we know that. Its just that our bodys wont let us the mind will but alas the body wont.I just get so frustrated with the whole issue do i lie on an application form then get found out or do i just keep saying my health isn't that good and never get an interview. It seems to me the govt need to start telling employers that hiring disabled people isn't such a bad idea after all as long as there is enough support LOL.

  9. The demonisation of the disabled has been insidious because it's trying to turn everyone against each other... even the disabled. This is why we get 'I'm more disabled than you and I can still work' crap thrown at us.

    They are trying to create a heirarchy of disability... a more disabled than thou outlook, so they can cut everything while still pretending to be compassionate.

    I am one of the ones still trying to work. Whether I can do it this time next month, next year or the year after that I don't know. But I wouldn't presume to judge others. And I don't expect them to judge me.

  10. I feel I go round with a big sign above my head flashing unreliable on it. Work had to go years ago but now most of my family treat me as a leper as they will not accept there is anything wrong with me as I look 'normal' so am treated as a lazy good for nothing, who doesn't care about anyone except herself, why because due to my bad health I have had to let people down, very often these same people have pushed and pushed to get me to commit to say go to a child's birthday party, but on the day I cannot get out of bed, then they swiftly turn round and ask you why you said you would come when you 'knew' you wouldn't....yet you had explained how you might not make it, you said now I refuse all invites, never plan anything as i do not want to hurt anyone else, so I end up leading a lonely miserable life, yet not through my own fault, just a bit of understanding that I am ill, would make all the difference. If I had cancer I know they would be full of understanding but not MS or Fibromyalgia ( cannot get two drs to agree on which it is) .

    So my heart goes out to you having to give up your career and having to keep explaining yourself to others.

    Maybe we should be campaigning for school to teach about invisible illness and how you can be ill/disabled yet its not seen and how it affects the person who has it and how they interact with the world.

  11. There's another disturbing wrinkle on the amateur ATOS assessors. I've had a couple of occasions recently of meeting people who don't know me and explaining my situation, and being told 'Of course you have a valid claim to disability benefits, any reasonable person can see that, but it's all those other people out there milking the system....' Well, no actually, it's a load more people like me, each able to (eventually) convince most people we meet that actually we really do need ESA, DLA or whatever, but not able to convince them that we aren't a special case. It's sort of a reverse 'I don't really think of you as disabled' and it makes it impossible to make them understand that there is a generic problem.

  12. Oh, and I thought that this article was going to be about something completely different, because neither of the ATOS assessors I dealt with could remotely have been described as professional....

  13. '(A tip for the hypermobiles: Just because you're flexible enough to pick up the glass of orange juice on the shelf behind you without turning round to look at it doesn't mean it's a good idea.)'

    Ha! Spilt tea on myself the exact same way this morning.

    As for the rest of your post - well said. I've always thought those comments were incredibly patronising and I've stopped bothering trying to explain myself now when people tell me 'why don't you...?' and usually just walk away from the conversation. I've tried explaining before, but they don't just respond with 'Oh, yeah, good point.' and drop it. Nooooo, they go 'How about this instead?' and no matter how many times I explain they always have another suggestion, and then they eventually run out and get pissed off at me for being so 'negative' and 'unwilling to try things' and 'always having an excuse' - it's so much easier to end the conversation as soon as it starts.