This week, the author of the blog ‘Diary of a benefit scrounger’, Sue Marsh, got a job with Maximus, the company taking over responsibility for the dreaded work capability assessment (WCA).
The world of social media has exploded as folk have rushed to support or vilify her.
This is my response.
I don’t know Sue – I’ve read a few of her blogs and, to be honest from the outset – I like the cut of her jib.
I’m a mental health campaigner trying to raise awareness and challenge stigma one conversation at a time – walking around the edge of the UK – a somewhat grandiose metaphor for where many folk with a mental malady find themselves on the edge
Last year I didn’t do much rambling due to the fact I was mental – I dissociate and I lose all sense of what’s real.
Unlike Sue, I only have around 2 thousand followers across the various social media platforms. Probably like Sue, I’m concerned that my benefits could be lopped at any time.
Before going radio rental with a severe and enduring mental health problem I spent 20 years as a social worker – my final years in middle management with a gradually dying hope that I could change the system within.
I also spent a number of years working in an Edinburgh hospital, where I had a number of punters with Crohn’s disease – the condition that Sue suffers from.
I can state categorically that it’s an awful condition that affects every facet of your life. It shortens the lives of many and it usually involves a lot of discomfort, medication and surgery. It’s my understanding that stress can have a major effect on those with the illness.
Wiki has a good page on it here – take a look –
I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
Try this for an earth shattering observation – Sue is the same person she was 2 weeks, 2 months, 2 years ago.
Over the 6 years she’s been blogging, you, I, and many others have become her peers, her virtual friends and supporters.
By taking this job she is betraying nobody. With her partner giving up his job, they, as a family will only be slightly better off than they were before.
This is a huge leap into the unknown.
ATOS worked in conjunction with the DWP to try to set up an horrific system of culling folk from benefits where the responsibility for devastating changes to people’s lives lay with nobody.
Time and again the Work Capability Assessment was found to be flawed beyond repair.
Iain Duncan Smith has been given Carte Blanche to drive people into penury with his bizarre dream of universal credit.
Sue has consistently made a noise against this.
As observers I imagine you, like me, wonder what kind of people could work within such a hateful system. These people couldn’t possibly be like you or me – except for the few brave whistleblowers.
After ongoing pressure, ATOS have buggered off, leaving us, we fear, with the crazed offspring of IDS and the DWP, MAXIMUS (and I thought I had grandiose ideas).
More of the same.
Like ATOS, I can’t see this bunch of public money plunderers shifting for a few years.
So, the question is – do we want them to remain a wall of faceless bureaucrats using pseudoscience with nobody like us lurking within their impenetrable ramparts?
We could continue to rage against the machine – campaigning – raising awareness from the outside – or we could rejoice in the fact that one of us – yes us – a person we have grown to trust over the years, has broken in.
Her hopes, my hopes for her, may be naive – but without taking a punt, we’ll never know.
Faceless bureaucrat or trusted blogger/ campaigner? I know where my loyalties lie.
Which brings me back to my original question.
What job would I be allowed to do before I’m hunted down by the pitchfork and torch wielding hordes?
I’m hoping to widen the scope of my project – walk a mile in my shoes – lunacy permitting – to involve talks, Internet radio, engaging with professionals, local and central government.
I would hope if I were to make an error of judgement, or take a risk, whether that be one that directly buggers up my health or causes me to rub shoulders with unlikely alliances, I would hope that my peers, virtual, actual and online, the same folk who’ve sung from the same hymnsheet as me for years, would be there when I needed them, to challenge me with constructive criticism, or to mop me up as required.
I imagine Sue is nothing less than terrified at taking this job on. Taking the leap from benefit scrounger with a severe physical illness, to full time worker is huge – if it goes belly up, she knows full well what the hell of reapplying for her benefits entails – as do you.
This is a huge risk for her. I dread to think what MAXIMUS’S sickness policy looks like.
In her last blog she reached out to us – you and me – in the hope that we’d still be there with her with this leap of faith.
I’d like to think I could be there if she needs me.
Walk a mile