We all know that as a company they don’t give “Atos” about the people they deal with but what actually happens behind the closed doors? I’ve protested about Atos and the vicious regime it is part of but since I am not disabled or long term sick and therefore not directly impacted I had never been beyond the front door. Recently, as a member of the Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network, I was asked to accompany someone to an assessment at the Atos offices in Glasgow.
I met the woman I was accompanying, I’ll call her Anne, 20 minutes before her appointment. We went into the building and were directed to a waiting room. Once there Anne was given a ticket and while we sat and waited for her number to be called she told me she had been in limbo for some time regarding her benefits and was without support and needed the situation to be resolved quickly – cue a lengthy wait for her to be called.
After about 15 or 20 minutes we were called over to a bank style Perspex window where her paperwork was checked. She was asked for ID, presumably to make sure the real Anne hadn’t hired a disabled person for the day. After the paperwork had been gone over Anne was asked how she would deal with an assessment on the 2nd floor. A genuine health and safety question or part of the assessment masquerading as a health and safety question?
After that we sat down again and waited and waited. Nearly three quarters of an hour after her appointment time Anne was called and we were taken through to another room. When we sat down the person carrying out Anne’s assessment introduced herself in a thick Spanish accent. Anne then wowed her by speaking Spanish to her.
Anne then explained in detail her medical history and the events that had led her to this point. I won’t go into the medical details beyond saying that she walks with the aid of a crutch, is in constant pain despite taking pain killers and also has mental health problems caused by her physical illness and the stress of being bullied out of her last job.
Having wowed her assessor with her linguistic skills Anne then wowed her with her medical knowledge. Before falling ill Anne had been a medical practitioner for many years. Her knowledge of her illnesses impressed me, easy enough, but she clearly impressed the assessor too. She had to tell her all of this because the assessor didn’t have Anne’s medical notes and hadn’t had time to read what little there was in the file.
The questions kept coming and were intrusive. Everything from “who does the shopping?” to “how often do you shower?” to “do you have suicidal thoughts?” On this last one Anne’s answer was yes. When she broke down in tears there weren’t even any tissues in the room for her only paper towels – the type you dry your hands with. The only silver lining was that it was at this point that I saw some proof that there were 3 human beings in the room and not 2 as I had imagined might be the case. The assessor did seem to show genuine concern especially when Anne told her she had not spoken to her doctor about the suicidal thoughts.
Next year is the 100th anniversary of the Glasgow Rent Strike. In 1915 when their husbands and sons were answering General Kitchener’s “Your Country Needs You” call, going off to fight and die for Britain the women left behind fell prey to rack-renting landlords. In a strange echo of the past Anne told me that while she was becoming ill, losing her job and facing the Atos interrogation system her son was fighting in Afghanistan. The women of 1915 made a stand against the abuse and mistreatment they faced and so should those facing abuse and mistreatment at the hands of the government and its paid henchmen in the private sector today.
The questions over, there was no physical assessment because Anne is waiting for the results of an MRI scan. So before we knew it we were back on the street feeling dazed.
Now Anne has to wait for a “decision maker” to consider her situation. Surely any process that reduces people to tears needs to be reconsidered especially if assessments are being made that can very seriously affect the lives of very vulnerable, even suicidal, people. Can it be right that such decisions can be made without reference to medical notes?
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