Dear MP: how to say “no” to a mental health campaign nicely

N.B. The first email in this exchange is automatically generated by the Rethink Mental Illness “MP Capability Assessment” campaign after entering my postcode

From: XXXXXX@gmail.comSent: 15 August 2013 14:57 
To: XXX 
Subject: Your MP Capability Assessment interview

Dear Mr XXX,

Your MP Capability Assessment

As your constituent it is important to me that you understand what it is like to undergo a Work Capability Assessment (WCA), which thousands of your constituents go through every year.

A recent Judicial Review came to the conclusion that people with mental health problems are substantially disadvantaged by the way they are being assessed by the Department of Work & Pensions through the WCA. I would like you to understand what this experience is like for many of the people you represent.

I have arranged an interview for you to undertake an MP Capability Assessment (MPCA) with Rethink Mental Illness. This assessment mimics the WCA process, asking you to produce evidence of your fitness to be a Member of Parliament. Like the WCA, it is essential that you make yourself available as to not do so may affect the decision about your ability to be an MP.

Please attend Room N, Portcullis House, SW1A 2LW on Wednesday 11 September between the hours of 3:00 – 4:30 p.m. If you cannot keep this appointment then you must make contact as soon as possible to make alternative arrangements.

Things the MP Capability Assessor will need to see on the day of your interview:

  • Proof of your identity
  • Any relevant information or evidence demonstrating your ability to work as an MP

An MP Capability Assessor will conduct the interview and the results of the assessment will be made available to you and your constituents shortly afterwards.

To confirm that you will attend please email campaigns@rethink.org

Yours sincerely,

Charlotte Walker

Ealing North

 15 August 2012 15:02

Dear Charlotte Walker,

I have accompanied seven constituents to an ATOS operated WCA and I really fail to see what public benefit there is in my taking up the valuable time of Rethink Mental Illness in the exercise that you have kindly invited me to.

If you can come up with a convincing reason why I should forswear the homelessness meeting that I am due to attend on the 11th.September between 3.00-4.30 I’ll happily come along – but I really do not need convincing of the inequities of the system!

Best wishes,

Mr XXX

16 August 2013 10.30

Dear Mr XXX,

I cannot help feeling that you would benefit from some pointers in saying “no” graciously.

Your response reads as irritated that I should have asked you to participate in a national campaign run by Rethink Mental Illness. Presumably this is because you feel you are already “on side” and do not need to further demonstrate this.

There is, however, nothing in your response to indicate that you recognise the especially problematic nature of the WCA for people with severe mental health conditions, which is the whole thrust of the campaign. How am I to know whether this applied any of the seven constituents you have supported had a severe mental health problem like bipolar mood disorder or schizophrenia?

If you are not able to participate in the exercise or do not see the need because you believe your level of knowledge to be high, but genuinely understand the plight of constituents like me, why not say so?

A response along the lines of:

–       I recognise the need for this campaign and am already very conscious of the need for change

–       I can’t take part in the exercise but will continue to address this issue in Parliament whenever I can

would have been sufficient.

I was so taken aback by your actual response that I posted it on Twitter, where I am followed predominantly by mental health service users, carers and professionals. Here is some of the feedback I received:

–       So rude & dismissive

–       Disgusting response

–       What a terrible response!

–       Makes it sound as if you’re not worthy of his time and attention!!

–       I’d be v annoyed if I got such a response from my MP.  We agree on nothing but no need for such rudeness.

–       I’m surprised he took the time to respond. He took the time to be rude.

–       Baffling. Not an attitude I would expect.

–       Sounds like a pretty angry and loaded response

–       That response was bang out of order

–       Gosh! Who is MP? (there were several others wanting to know who you were)

–       What a shockingly awful response!

If a constituent highlights a campaign run by Rethink Mental Illness, it is extremely likely that they either use mental health services or are the carer of somebody else who does. I would ask you to consider the particular impact of such a dismissive tone on someone who is emotionally vulnerable and may, like me, have had an incredibly distressing experience at WCA. The rapidity of your response suggests I am not the first to ask you to participate in this campaign. If you feel that the MP Capability Assessment is frivolous or unnecessary, then surely it would be more appropriate to take this up with Rethink as the orchestrators of the campaign and simply offer a short yet courteous response to individual constituents as outlined above.

My assumption that you were one of “the good guys” in Parliament around mental health issues has been seriously bruised by this encounter.

Yours sincerely,

Charlotte Walker

 

On 16 Aug 2013, at 16:11, “POUND, Steve” <steve.pound.mp@parliament.uk> wrote:

Dear Charlotte Walker,

Thanks for this and,of course, I regret any distress caused. 

The tone of the original message was clearly antagonistic and I rather doubt that many parliamentary colleagues will agree to the exercise. I keep being told that I should do a most Members do and delegate responding to e-mails to a third party as the personal touch so often leads to problems.

I repeat the point that I made about not needing to be convinced of the inequities of the system.

I do very much hope that the exercise is a success and that you achieve the intended outcomes.

Best wishes,

Mr XXX

 

Dear Mr XXX

You feel irritated by being sent a message you do not feel should be for you and has not taken your personal circumstances into account.. You dislike the tone of the correspondence, which appears peremptory. It feels unfair, right?

It’s supposed to. Because that’s how it feels to be summoned to WCA.

Now imagine you get this summons when you haven’t been able to wash, let alone leave the house, for weeks. Imagine the voices in your head are telling you that if you attend your assessment something terrible will happen, while the letter makes it clear that something terrible will happen if you don’t. Imagine the drugs you have to take for even minimal functionality fog your brain so much that you read the instructions again and again and again but you cannot take in what you are supposed to do, or when, or why. Imagine how frightened you would feel.

It’s an important message for all MPs. Even if they believe themselves “convinced of the inequalities of the system” in terms of the general WCA, we need the people representing us (and I did vote for you, not that it should matter either way) to recognise that the experience for people with severe mental illness is exceptionally  bad. The Judicial Review has confirmed this, but there is still so much more to do.

I won’t trouble you further, but I remain disappointed that you have allowed irritation at what you perceive as your personal inconvenience at being asked to read and respond to a message (about a campaign from one of the country’s leading mental health charities) overrides empathy.

Yours sincerely,

Charlotte

 

Dear Charlotte Walker,

I can assure you that I was not irritated and I would respectfully suggest that you are not in a position to identify my emotions.

Please credit me with an understanding of the fact that your message was a reflection of the WCA summons but it would have been far more productive  if you had made this clear and invited those who voted for this to experience the reality of the process.

By not stating that you were using the terminology of ATOS I am afraid you gave a most unfortunate impression and I really hope that this does not prejudice the outcomes.

I actually agree with you in respect of the points that you make but was offended by the clumsy wording of your original message; but certainly not irritated.
That would be disrespectful.

With best wishes both personally and in terms of the campaign,

Yours,

Mr XXX

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About purplepersuasion

40 something service user, activist, writer and mother living with bipolar disorder. Proud winner of the Mark Hanson Prize for Digital Media at the Mind Media Awards #VMGMindAwards 2013. Winner of the World in Mentalists Mood Disorder blog 2012. Regular guest blogger for the International Bipolar Foundation http://www.internationalbipolarfoundation.org/ Expert by Experience working with Mind training department. Working on The Incoming Tide, a bipolar memoir. Find me on Twitter @BipolarBlogger or at my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/BipolarBlogger
This entry was posted in Activism, Mental health, Politics and current affairs, Stigma and discrimination, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Dear MP: how to say “no” to a mental health campaign nicely

  1. ‘I keep being told that I should do a most Members do and delegate responding to e-mails to a third party as the personal touch so often leads to problems.’

    This stinks of ‘poor me.’ I also don’t understand how someone of his standing could fail to understand that the tone of the initial email was to reflect that of the WCA. *sigh*

  2. Tim says:

    I very much like your approach. I hope you continue you with your excellent blog pieces and your wider campaigning that is of an equally high standard. Thank you

    I believe you got a typical politicians’ response. Irate at being asked to actively engage as his position requires along with being dismissive and arrogant. It would appear he then ducks behind the good old, not my fault, not my problem before going on the offensive and attempting to portray you in a negative context. I’m surprised that in his position he’s not more positive about how the lead by example has filtered down from the top, attacking the individual.

    “By not stating that you were using the terminology of ATOS I am afraid you gave a most unfortunate impression” – When it is used by ATOS – does that impression change? or do he just not care because it’s directed towards others and not himself

  3. I’ve just gotta say, even from across the pond, that guy sounds like a total TOOL!!!!!! go, go, go!!! I know from friends in the UK that DLA is about to get totally effed up so you are a vital fighting force. rock on!!!!! cheering for you from Washington, dc! ann

  4. bioluninescence says:

    I’m in your borough and I just sent him an email saying how upset it made me how he treated you. Thanks for posting this it was inspiring. Also I can’t believe he said ‘clumsily written’ its like he was in parliament shouting at Tories, we’re the ones who decide who to vote for!

  5. Sadie says:

    I would be sorely tempted to respond to an actual WCA letter with his letter but changing his signature to mine, and then copying him in and saying “he thinks that’s an acceptable response, so it must be”… but I don’t claim… and of course those who do can’t afford the serious risk and loss involved in doing that. dreadful 😦

  6. Pingback: MPs Undergo Work Capability Assessments | Atos Victims Group News

  7. You response to this is absolutely fantastic! I just happened to stumble across this post, by accident, and I really am glad I did.
    He certainly sounds like someone who should have turned up, to prove himself worthy of being an MP at all.
    I’m glad you stuck to your guns and continued to respond in an eloquent manner. Well done!

    • Thanks so much – I am glad I did publish the exchange because I got to the point of questioning myself/my response. Makes me feel much better to know that others thought I handled it well! 😀

  8. Sorry, *your response. Was so excited by it that I could barely type, haha.

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