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.com Sent: 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 email@example.com
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!
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.
On 16 Aug 2013, at 16:11, “POUND, Steve” <firstname.lastname@example.org> 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.
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.
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,