*Maximus Assessment aka the new ATOS, aka the place that decides how sick, crippled or crap you really are!
I am a disabled person. I’m not in a wheelchair, I can feed myself, see and hear perfectly well. But I am still disabled. I am also currently apparently bordering on pond scum, because I, am currently on benefits *dodges rotten fruit*
Sorry about that. Yes I’m one of this horrible horde who take, take, take and give nothing back and I think my disability gives me the right never to work and spounge off the state and Hard Working Families ™.
Except I’m not.
I’m 32. I have learning difficulties, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and depression. I was also employed until 2013 when I was made redundant. I’ve worked since I was 16. I live with my parents so I don’t cost you any housing benefit, and I don’t have kids, so there’s no child benefits. I am instead selfishly claiming ESA (Employement Support Allowence) despite a year of searching for work with weekly checkups from the job centre and a meticulously detailed and full job booklet (seriously they all commented on it!). A lack of a job made me more depressed than I was, my learning difficulties make it difficult to find a job as does my CFS, which is made worse by stress and depression.
So I see my lovely but also very practical and sensible doctor, I am trembling, having panic attacks and crying. I’m worn out with the constant pressure of job searching, I’ve been struggling with depression for years, and my family has been struggling through various cancer battles, and now I’m being made to feel like a generic rodent. I get signed off work and so starts my adventure into the work of claiming ESA.
After several months, after filling out pages and pages of forms, in between going to the doctor, upping my anti depressants and anti anxiety and waiting, I get my Letter of the Damned, aka my appointment to ‘assess my needs’ – they want to see just how sick and/or disabled you really are.
This is a difficult job so obviously the government has deemed it best and the most sensible option would be to let American companies handle British disabled people. Simples!
First it was ATOS, who have quit their contract five years early possibly due to innumerous appeals, court cases, and bad publicity over their rulings. After all it just doesn’t look very good when someone who’s judged to be fit enough to work, dies of their terminal illness two weeks later.
So now step forward Maximus. Yes Russell Crowe from Gladitor will assess you, just don’t criticise him. Actually no. Sorry. Maximus is the new company taking off where ATOS ran away. They’re American too. But let’s not jump to any hasty judgements. Even if they’ve had court cases in America of discrimination and fraud. We’re all in this together after all.
So off I trot to my appointment.
First impressions count, right? So the waiting room is my first glimmer into these people’s mindsets, which is strangely completely unequipped for disabled people. From what I saw there is no ramp for wheelchair users, no braille, no hearing loops, the walls are completely bare (a sad tint of beige in colour, or maybe gray?) apart from official Maxiumus notices and the toilet door is virtually impossible to open – all really helpful when your client base as a whole is disabled.
The room as a whole has an atmosphere – and smell of ‘urine and despair’ to channel my inner Dickens. It’s everything you can imagine about a corporation organizing benefits. Impersonal, detached, uninformed and ill prepared. The building is pretty old and looks every year of it’s age. The other victims tend to be of the shuffling, stooped and on the sort-of obese side, and it seems impossible to imagine what work they could actually do, especially when at least one of them wasn’t able to even bring any ID with him to prove who he was.
These people whether they are actually sick/disabled, and I am not passing any judgements, hardly seem responsible for the so-called need for austerity due to ‘benefit scroungers’ they aren’t living the glamorous life at tax payers expense, if their appearance and footwear is anything to go by.
So all in all, just about as depressing a stereotype as you could imagine.
I nervously wait until I’m finally called in by a human looking woman – the appointments are all running roughly half an hour behind schedule. She’s very apologetic but within very minutes I’m being told I’ll need to come back in again. Apprantly my situation requires a qualified doctor, and she’s a qualified nurse. Close but no cigar.
So close, yet so far….
So I wait for another appointment. In between this, I have two letters for new appointments arrive, along with two more letters cancelling both those appointments. They all arrive on the same day.
I finally get my new, official appointment for Maximus, and no letter to cancel. It’s game on again