Warning: questionnaires may damage your health
Posted Thursday 1 September 2011
In this guest blog, Lee describes his experience of being re-assessed for the new Employment and Support Allowance.
As part of the DWP’s attempt to migrate all those still receiving Incapacity Benefit on to their new system of Employment and Support Allowance, I was recently issued with a 20-page ‘Limited capability for work questionnaire’ – which I can only describe as an interrogation on paper.
How does this make me feel? Well, anyone with a mental health condition can probably guess; stressed, anxious, frustrated and resentful.
The problem I find with this kind of bureaucracy is that you have to provide a lot of VERY personal information and this alone can be a very disturbing prospect. A great deal of mental preparation was necessary and I had to find a moment where I was lucid and my concentration wouldn’t be hampered by any of the myriad symptoms of my condition.
It doesn’t help that I found the questions were vague and generalised and often difficult to understand. I couldn’t afford to miss a trick and I needed to ensure I was as detailed and accurate in my answers as possible and to be honest, it was exhausting.
The reason I found it exhausting was because I had to think long and hard about how my condition affects me, which at times was a difficult and painful experience. It’s like being asked to evoke bad memories of a personal trauma – attempting to articulate how your condition manifests itself and how it can impact a multitude of aspects so the DWP can decide how it affects your ability to hold down a job.
Among the different sections of the questionnaire I had to explain how my condition makes it difficult for me to communicate with others; whether or not it creates difficulties in learning to do tasks, how difficult I find it to wake up, wash and dress myself, cook and go shopping.
The problem I found with this was that they were asking me to give a definitive answer about something that is so variable and fluctuating – trying to do so is almost impossible without a lot of self-analysis. Some of it is very basic stuff but it left me wondering why it was relevant at all. Yes, I can wash myself, tie my own shoelaces and even microwave a carbonara – but this doesn’t mean I could necessarily hold down a job.
Later on they ask me how well I cope with change, getting out and about and, of course, social situations. I’m still trying to learn how to manage things on a daily basis, let alone maintain any kind of routine, trying to explain the varying degrees at which I can cope with change and at what point it becomes a problem – there simply isn’t enough room to go into the depth required to give even a vaguely accurate response. I felt the best thing to do was explain how sometimes the slightest change in my daily life can actually have dramatic consequences.
I find social situations and being outdoors can often trigger anxiety, which usually manifests itself in agoraphobia and voluntary isolation. Conversely, I like the opportunity to get out now and again and be among other human beings and in my more adventurous moments I’m as up for a night out on the town as anyone else. But how do you explain this with such rigid criteria and the draconian values institutionally inherent in the present system? The mentality of “if you’re not laid-up in bed, then you must be OK to go to work”.
My ability to be a fully functioning, socially acceptable individual couldn’t be more questionable, especially if I have a habit of upsetting people. I can understand why they need to know how I interact with others; if I can’t sustain positive relationships with people with any kind of longevity then how am I supposed to have a job which (for the most part) usually involves working with other people?
So I may have some interpersonal issues that need addressing; maybe I’m highly stressed at the moment and not getting the support I need. Maybe I’m deeply frustrated by all the things going on in my life; or maybe it’s because I have bipolar disorder. It’s a can of worms, and no way was the box in which they required me to respond big enough to explain how my friends and family are worried about me.
I doubt I am the only one with a lot of concerns for their future in respect of this new system. I still don’t fully understand how it will affect me in the future. I would like to return to university soon and under the previous system of Incapacity Benefit, I was allowed to continue to receive benefits during my short stint at university. The extra financial leverage was undeniably helpful and made a massive difference to my quality of life; however, six months later I was forced to drop out due to a relapse.
My fear now is that this option may no longer be available and with the cost of living rising so dramatically in recent months, it’s becoming harder and harder to manage on such a low income, particularly when there are fewer options and greater limitations due to these so-called welfare reforms.
Read our information on where you can find help for benefits advice. There is also information for on the Employment Support Allowance and the Work Capability Assessment.
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