Jobcentreplus (or what the fucketty-fuck?)

Well. Where to start with this baby? First, I am going to try not to swear (other than repeating any swears that happened during reported naturally occurring talk. Second, this story follows on from The Atos Questionnaire, so if you ain’t familiar with that sad and sorry tale, click here.

So LB is now in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance (despite a news blackout that he was actually entitled to it).

All good in the end then? Well maybe. If he actually received it.

Today I dredged deep (after a lovely, lovely day at an autism conference in London yesterday) and found the energy? resources? reserves? strength? I don’t know what I found really, just something (which is remarkable after about 14 years of consistently shite support/sevices) and called Jobcentreplus to ask why, after the initial back payment of three months, LB hadn’t received a bean.

“Hello,” said JCP blokey, “I need to speak to LB to go through some security questions first.”
“Mmm.. not being funny, but unless you want to ask some Darth Vader and the Death Star Canteen type security questions, you’re probably better off asking me.”
“I need to speak to LB. He is in receipt of the allowance.”
“He won’t be able to answer your questions. He has severe learning difficulties.”
“Ah.. Oh yes, I see now. I should have asked these questions in a different order, then I would have known. Then I could have avoided that embarrassing question.”
“So, let me try and work out what’s  happened here then. Oh yes, there is a stop on the account because the sick note provided is dated from 16 November to 16 February. You need to go to the GP and get a medical certificate to cover the period from 16 February.”
“Er, we originally provided an indefinite medical certificate in February and we were asked to get a second one covering November to February. We sent that ages ago.”

Let’s take a moment here to reflect on what I’ve just written.

  1. LB is given an indefinite sick note by the GP. What is an indefinite sick note?
  2. Despite having an ‘indefinite’ sick note, the GP had to produce a second sick note to cover the three months before the original sick note. Backdating an ‘indefinite’ sick note? What does that mean?
  3. [1] and [2] had to happen despite 14 plus years of medical, health and social care reports detailing in painfully minute detail, LB’s ‘deficits and shortcomings’ (in official eyes).
  4. Despite [1] and [2] (and even without [3]) we then get a 20 odd page Atos questionnaire to complete to provide evidence of the efficacy of the ‘indefinite’ sick note.

Well, the swear constraints can fuck right off. This system is beyond shite. And horrendous to experience.

So, back to JCP blokey.

“Oh, I see what’s happened. When they got the second medical certificate, they entered that, and overlooked the original certificate. That’s here but they’ve only entered the November to February dates. That’s why there’s a block on the account.”
“Mmmm. I need to sort this out.”
“Bloody hell.”
“Well yes, I’d have probably said something similar myself in your shoes.”
“Bloody hell.”
“I’ll email them straightaway to sort this out. It will only take about 3 hours to change it. The account should then be unblocked.”
“When you say them, who do you mean?”
“Oh, the benefits people. That’s who has to sort this out. I’m just a contact person on the helpline.”
“Thank you. Goodbye.”

What else is there to say really?

The Atos questionnaire

Many of you will be, luckily, unaware of Atos, a French IT company. Googling Atos will produce mountains of complaints and criticisms about Atos Healthcare, a divison of Atos, that has been awarded the contract to assess scroungers’* ability to work on behalf of the Dept of Work and Pensions (DWP). To save you the task, here is a good overview of the Atos crapness. Well this company is raking in the casheroony in a big way. Bit like A4e (Action for Employment) and the infamous Emma Harrison, until recently, Cameron’s families *cough* *cough* *cough* tzar.

So, back to Atos. And LB. Well, as I’ve mentioned here before, I recently found out, through mates (rather than the enormous machinery of health, education and social care services) that LB has been entitled to Employment and Support Allowance since he turned 16 over a year ago. We can backdate claims by three months.

To start the claim, I did a phone interview with JobCentre Plus (JCP) which lasted about 40 minutes and included mind boggling questions like “Who is the head of your household?” The next step was to get a sick note (???) from the GP.  He sensibly gave LB an indefinite sick note. This was returned by JCP as it needed to be backdated by three months. Back to the GP for second sick note. Indefinitely sick since November 2011.

So a medical practitioner has authorised LB’s removal from job seeking indefinitely. But that’s no longer enough. There is a Limited capability to work questionnaire to fill in, so that experts (undefined) from Atos can judge whether or not LB has legitimate access to allowances in place of paid employment.

Well. Where to start? It’s 20 pages long, covering questions about medical condition, treatment/medication, physical and ‘mental, cognitive and intellectual functions’.

Questionnaires are always flawed but this one is legendary in its crapness. I feel strongly that if someone can’t fill in the questionnaire themselves, because they have severe learning disabilities, then it’s a done deal. Bin the questionnaire, it’s pretty obvious that this person is going to have a limited capability for work. I’m not suggesting at all that people with severe learning disabilities are not ever capable of paid employment, but that some limiting parameters are in place in terms of the engagement with the process. And if they can’t engage with the process, some other poor buggar (often parent) will have to instead to fill it in on their behalf.

Compounding this, the content of the questionnaire is baffling and ultimately meaningless. For example;

Can you learn how to do a simple task like setting an alarm clock or a more complicated task like using a washing machine?

How is setting an alarm clock a simple task? You’ve got to be able to tell the time for starters, before you even turn to the clock. Just a small consideration I suppose in the experts at Atos’ eyes.  Teaching LB the time has been an ongoing process for the last 2/3 years and no, the boy ain’t cracked it yet. Let’s park that (minor) detail for now. Do Atos mean a manual alarm clock, where you have to scooby round some second set of hands to the time you want the alarm to go off? Never an easy task. Or a digital alarm clock??? It is ill-thought out nonsense.

The next question is “Initiating actions” and asks; Can you manage to plan, start and finish daily tasks? Possible answers – never, sometimes or it varies. Again, gaping holes here. Do they mean unaided, or with prompts/support? Do they mean ‘sensible’ plans/tasks, like ‘today I’m going to buy some bread and milk’, or less ‘sensible’ plans, like ‘today I’m going to stay in bed and play with my willy all day’? Atos would possibly argue that the text box below each question enables the more nuanced details to be thrashed out, but how is that text going to be measured, counted or made sense of?

Well here is how; an outline of the way in which the questions are awarded points. So, for example, points for the simple task question;

Cannot learn or understand how to successfully complete a simple task, such as setting an alarm clock, at all. (15 points)

Needs to witness a demonstration, given more than once on the same occasion, of how to carry out a simple task before the claimant is able to learn or understand how to complete the task successfully, but would be unable to successfully complete the task the following day without receiving a further demonstration of how to complete it. (15 points)

Needs to witness a demonstration of how to carry out a simple task, before the claimant is able to learn or understand how to complete the task successfully, but would be unable to successfully complete the task the following day without receiving a verbal prompt from another person. (9 points)

Points mean prizes. Luckily, the details of the point scoring are available on various sites/blogs if you have access to the internet. A lot of people don’t. One of the strong criticisms raised in recent debates around the ‘abuse’ of Disability Living Allowance was that people sought advice, or even paid people, to help them fill in the forms. What the government fail to see, or choose to ignore, is that these forms are so overly complicated, and with hidden agendas, that most people would not qualify for the allowance without the help of people who understand the system and process. Not because they are scamming the system.

By page 15, I gave up with the game.  I started to write ‘LB has severe learning disabilities’ in each box. I don’t know how many points that will produce, but I’m willing to take it up with Atos or JCP. It’s a nasty, underhand, thoughtless and ultimately meaningless process designed purely for economic reasons; to reduce costs. The human costs are racking up of course. But hey ho.

*In case you didn’t know, benefit claimants are all scroungers until proved otherwise.

Update: 20 July.

Got DWP letter today. LB’s met the eligibility criteria for Support Group. “Success”.

Being LB’s Mum

Regular readers will know that quite a chunk of this blog focuses on my relationship (and interactions) with LB.  This isn’t to detract from my (or Rich’s) relationship (or interactions) with any of the other kids. It’s just that life with a dude like LB has peculiarities and a difference to it, that are often not really known about, or understood, by people outside of family or close friends.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit recently about being LB’s mum. This is because he is kind of becoming an adult. I say kind of for obvious reasons.  Well I think they are obvious reasons. In my book, he’s going to have to be able to count to ten and cross a road unsupervised before he gets adult status. But maybe I’m wrong.

Being LB’s mum has had a profound impact on my life. This impact has been a mix of good, bad and indifferent. As I’ve mentioned before, LB is a genuinely funny dude. Intentionally or unintentionally, he has been consistently entertaining, he is loyal, loving and delights in certain interests. Being his mum has opened up a world to me that is, by turn, frustrating, enlightening, rewarding and soul destroying. I’ve met a lot of remarkable women who have had to go so much further, in terms of physically and emotionally caring  for their disabled children on a daily basis, than is commonly expected of mothers. These women have a resilience, humour and down to earth engagement with regular, sometimes relentless, sometimes shocking challenges. These challenges take so many forms, it would be impossible to begin to list them, but they are substantial. And life changing. I’ve also met a lot of remarkable people who throw themselves into teaching, or caring for, dudes like LB.

My experiences with LB have motivated me to explore academic areas, and develop a career, that may have passed me by in different circumstances. That is pretty cool. I’ve dived into the disability studies pool, splashed around with other parent academics to help carve out a legitimate space for parents of disabled children in disability studies. And had critical, challenging and stimulating discussions and debates along the way.

The bad has been (largely) caused by crap, poorly organised, non-existent or overly bureaucratic support. It has also related, at times, to his behaviour or actions but we won’t dwell on that now*.

Now he’s heading into a different space. A space that is a little bit uncertain. Some things ain’t changed. One of us has to be here everyday after school. He still needs a babysitter if we go out. He still needs prompting to get dressed and clean his teeth. But chucked into the mix now is shaving (shudder), sex education (“Mustn’t get pregnant Mum”), sick notes from the doctor and more surveillance from the state in the form of Atos nonsense questionnaires** and interviews.

Being LB’s mum is different to being the mum of non-learning disabled children. Instead of having a cracking old cry, waving him off to university or wherever, the boy ain’t going anywhere for the forseeable future. We are in for the long haul. That’s fair enough in a lot of ways. But the worst, truly awful and distressing aspect to being LB’s mum is thinking about the future. I know, from speaking with a lot of other parents, this is the biggy for most parents in this situation.  The ‘I really can’t bear to go there’ issue.

That is why I am so enraged at the proposed erosion of the welfare state by a government who have no understanding of what lives are like on the disabled (or chronically ill) side of the fence.

It’s wrong. And damaging in unmeasurable ways.


*But as a taster run with aggression, tantrums that have raised the ceiling in substantial supermarkets, a sleep pattern that would flummox a torture regime and low level, continuous questioning. Of everything truck and bus related.

**For a future comedy post.