Friday, 22 March 2013

The Atos Experience - Part One

So here I am almost at the end of my month of doom. Weekly hospital appointments with ME support have really taken their toll and so I haven't had the energy to blog or do anything else really. I pretty much knew this month would be a complete write off because of this but the upside is that I was nice and knackered for my Atos assessment this week. I thought I'd share with you my experience of the wonders of the Work Capacity Assessment but there's a lot I'd like to tell you so I shall do this in two parts otherwise this blog will be longer than a giraffe's scarf.

Having seen the horror stories in the news and heard the experiences of other people with ME, I was certainly not looking forward to sampling the charms of Atos for myself. It had already been a bad start when my initial appointment was cancelled with 2 days notice due to 'availability' which meant my husband having to re-arrange the day off work he'd booked in order to take me. They had 'helpfully' included bus times in my new appointment letter because of course it is that easy for us sick and disabled people. We might be too ill to manage leaving the house or working for a living but according to Atos, travelling by public transport is a mere breeze. It's fair to say I was a tad annoyed at both the cancellation and the implication I could just hop on several buses and walk from the stop to the assessment centre. I can't. That's kind of the whole point why you're assessing me! No matter, my husband managed to get the new day off work and I awaited my fate with baited breath.

So-called because they don't give Atos.

It took 20 minutes to drive to the centre, and a more depressing, dispiriting building I am yet to see. For a start, the car park was a short walk away (tricky) although blue badge holders were allowed through the hallowed barriers to park much nearer. At least, blue badge holders who were being assessed could - one woman being assessed was there with her mother. Her mother (the badge holder) was also disabled but as she wasn't the one being assessed, the security man told her she'd have to park in the normal car park and walk. Charming.

The waiting room was the sort of place you have to check before you sit down, just in case there's something nasty left by the previous occupant. There was no access to toilets either as we had arrived during the receptionist's lunch break and the only toilet was through the locked door separating us from the Atos staff. Everyone in the waiting room looked miserable, with an air of impending doom. When the receptionist finally arrived back from her lunch, she seemed quite nice and willingly buzzed me through to the toilets. These were again a short walk from the waiting room (tricky again) and again the sort of place you check (several times) before sitting down. As I shuffled back to the waiting room at my snail's pace, I passed shabby looking rooms and it occurred to me my assessor was probably in one of these rooms and perhaps I'd get marked down on my ability to walk to the loo by myself. You might think I was being a little paranoid but from what I'd been told, they would be assessing every little detail about me. In fact it wouldn't have surprised me if there had been CCTV so they could watch and assess our behaviour as we waited.

After a short wait, I was called for my assessment. The woman seemed very bright and chirpy but in a forced, unnatural way. I got the sense she was following her own cheery script she reeled out for every poor bugger and that underneath it all, she was as steely and hard faced as anyone paid to take away benefits from ill people would have to be. I almost felt sorry for her as she seemed quite dispirited by the whole process but then I reminded myself that she had the power to wreck lives and that anyone willing to work for such a company must surely be as culpable as those at the top. Sort of like the builders who died when the Death Star blew up deserved it because they were working for the dark side. She told me quite specifically to sit in a particular chair which was set at a peculiar angle. I tried to adjust it but it was quite a heavy chair and I could only manage a feeble shuffle. Such was my paranoia, I wondered if this was also part of the assessment. I imagined her ticking the box for 'chair wrangling' and deducting yet another point from my score. Now my husband and I were both seated, she ran through what to expect and the long dreaded assessment could finally begin.

*Tune in next time to find out if  'carrying a kettle'  qualifies you as fit for work. This and other exciting developments in 'The Atos Experience - Part Two'*