I was sitting in a cafe, feeling anxious, drinking a coffee. Staring out of the window I casually noticed an article someone was reading, the screaming headlines went like this:
You pick up the phone and inform on people you think are fiddling their benefits to The Sun.
It made me sick inside as I was on my way to attend an appeal regarding the ATOS decision they made in summer (see this post). It has taken nearly 7 months for the appeal to happen. It was nerve-wracking, sitting in the waiting area, stomach churning, sitting waiting, worrying… Thankfully I had my partner with me for moral support and because of the backlog of appeals, this particular tribunal venue, sit on a Saturday.
The panel composed of a doctor and a lawyer. They actually made me feel welcome and stressed their objectivity unlike the man from ATOS who made no eye contact and just tipped and tapped at the computer. The doctor asked me probing questions and seemed genuinely interested, he also listened and made notes. Unlike ATOS man who spent more time staring at the computer. It occurred to me then how could the man from ATOS extrapolate information about me based on quick questions where you can’t really go into that much depth. Asking very superficial questions will only get a one-dimensional answers. While at the appeal, the doctor and lawyer wanted to get a full picture including context and changes over time. They listened and made notes without making me feel like I was on some ATOS conveyor belt. The decision-making by the panel seemed more robust unlike ATOS.
Unfortunately, for me, I had to go back in time and discuss the state of my mind during the summer of 2011. It was hard. Very hard. I had kinda repressed, censored out, the pain and crap I was going through. Explaining how I couldn’t get out of bed at a reasonable time, socialising was difficult, leaving the flat usually involved going out with my partner who acted as a carer. I felt safe in my flat, hiding in bed, I didn’t want to disturb my silence by going out inside a loud screeching world. Wanted to hide. Hide away from life. I felt too ashamed, worthless and depressed to talk about this to friends. I did contemplate suicide and self-harm. My life was one big mess worsened considerably by my former employers and union. I used to be a level-headed person able to organise, function and have structure in my life but that was all unravelling like my mind. My memory was awful. The park acted as a sanctuary where I would watch the wildfowl, once I saw the herons I would feel calmer (maybe that sounds daft but it’s true). Even now when I feel anxious I look for the herons in the park as a point of reference. Things got worse when my partner accepted a job in Bristol not his fault but I felt even more lost. Thankfully, the panel asked my partner’s opinion as well.
Dredging this up again distressed me yet the doctor and lawyer were understanding and kind. They asked me questions. They listened. They made notes. They asked more questions. Unlike the man from ATOS who when he asked me whether I had more to say, which I did and tried to explain how life was getting too much etc. etc. for me, he just nodded his head and said, “Yeah, OK”… nodding his head but made NO notes instead he seemed to rely on the all important computer software. Didn’t he notice my glazed expression? Didn’t he notice my eyelids drooping as I was so tired? Didn’t he notice me staring blankly at the wall? Didn’t he notice…anything? No, it’s not his job to dig deep and to examine the whole picture. It’s about taking a useless and distorted psychological snapshot of me via a computer package.
The appeal took 20 mins and I sat and waited for their decision. I noticed myself in the appeal drinking water from a plastic cup and couldn’t believe or control my shaking hand. They called me back in and told me I had won my appeal. I thanked them and left. Instead of feeling ecstatic I feel numb and in a bit of a trance, to be honest I thought I was dreaming and that I would wake up. But it wasn’t a dream, I had won. It took a lot to be confident and be courageous today.
If you fail your ATOS assessment I would implore you to appeal. You just have to be prepared to go into details, don’t hold back, be honest. At least the Appeal panel listen and take you seriously unlike ATOS drone…
My ATOS score was 0, today it was 18. I am not the first or the last in regards to people who win their appeals. The ATOS system is ideologically fixed against you and that’s why it is so vital you appeal. It’s gives you a chance to give your side of the story, without interference from the tip-tapping of a computer keyboard. The man from ATOS wasn’t trained in mental health and it came across he didn’t have a clue about the day-to-day life, ups and downs, the inconsistencies of distress. The decision was made via a computer. Today’s decision was made by two humans.
ATOS aren’t fit for purpose and this is patently clear with the number of people who win their appeals. The system isn’t working, the system is not objective it is based on ideology as opposed to medical opinion. ATOS need to be removed from the benefits system as they cause streif, pain, misery and their judgements kill. Why waste more public money on a faulty, flawed and incompetent assessment? ATOS needs to go.