Two months after the upset caused by the process of filling in and sending off the form (ESA50) (http://bpdlifeinthemoment.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/the-wca-my-recovery-and-me.html) and five months after the initial letter landed on my doorstep, another official envelope arrived instructing me to attend my 'face to face assessment'. I had two weeks notice. I do not feel like reliving the experience of the assessment here. I have previously explained the impact of the WCA process on my emotional stability. Given the length of time taken from the start of the process to the actual assessment itself along with the usual day to day pressures and some pressures related to having elderly infirm parents, struggling financially, having plans to work towards more long term income solutions fall through, it is hardly surprising that I have found myself in a period of 'relapse' and was referred to the Crisis Team. Thankfully, the support and skills I have worked hard to develop kicked in and I have not had to have any further referrals to Mental Health Services.
I remain emotionally vulnerable and raw. I am moving myself back to the basics of recovery which helped me to get this far. I don't have the emotional wherewithal to explore the emotional fallout of the assessment, which was two weeks ago now. I do however, have some observations to make about a process which is not fit for purpose. For those implementing it and those of us with the misfortune to have to rely on any support resulting from it, should we be found not to be selfish, malingering, charlatans.
1) My assessor was as helpful and compassionate as she could be under the circumstances. This reinforced how ill conceived the WCA process is. She was faced with the emotional outpourings of both me and my friend, who attended, thankfully, to support me. We encountered at least one person in the waiting room in absolute distress, but with no company and the assessor seeing her off with just a tissue and some kind words. Who, I wonder, has to pick up the pieces?
2) The first letter arrived at my home at the end of January. It is now Midsummer's Eve and the process is still not complete - I anticipate I will get a decision some time in July. Should I be placed on the Work Related Activity (WRAG) ESA Group I will immediately lose £30 per week and be forced to undergo endless applications for jobs which are ill suited to me or my skills and experience, or risk losing all financial support through sanctions. If I choose to appeal (which we are officially told takes six months, but in practice takes much longer) all payments will be suspended pending the outcome - the DWP has now recruited and paid for a team legal experts to fight these appeals as they were losing at a rate of 85% of decisions being overturned on appeal. This is not about saving money or becoming more efficient or encouraging people like me to be confident enough to return to full time employment, but about dismantling a key component of our welfare system.
3) I am due to undergo the same process from November for the Personal Independence Payments (PIP) which are due to replace my current Disability Living Allowance. At this rate, my 'review' of benefits will have taken well over a year to complete. It has already set back my recovery and my progress towards meaningful employment, by at least three months. My question is, given there are two teams situated in the same building in my local county town, why am I going to have to complete exactly the same questions, provide exactly the same information about exactly the same conditions (albeit a few months later) for payments which have historically been inextricably linked, given that one (DLA) results from the assessment of physical and mental needs performed when applying for or reviewing. Once again, I am forced to conclude that the DWP are prepared to go through the tendering of contracts, with the costs that go with it, invest in putting those with disabilities through a system which is designed to 'test you to destruction' as my friend observed, in a bid to 'root out' malingerers.
There has to be a better way. When Benefit Fraud accounts for less than 1% of the Welfare Bill, when disability benefits are a tiny fraction of the total welfare budget compared to the State Pension and Tax Credits; just because I can be easily dismissed as 'emotionally unstable','mentally ill' - an outsider, does not mean that I and others struggling with long term, complex mental illness do not deserve better.