good for bristol

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

An everyday, mundane brutality

Bored medical staff in routine, box-ticking appointments in dull government offices on the outskirts of town are systematically brutalising our society.
This morning I went with a friend to Flowers Hill for his ATOS interview - you know, the one where they decide almost everyone is fit for work and kick 'em onto JSA.  My friend went in for his interview and I sat in the waiting room.

Flowers Hill is in deep south Bristol, up along the Bath Road in among a dull, tired looking shopping centre.  The assessment office is in a complex of what looks like a WW2 barracks refurbed into offices.  At the back there's a defunct nuclear bomb shelter from the 1950s.

The friendly waiting room receptionist sat behind a glass security pane, telling people she didn't know what time their interview would be and couldn't authorise taxi fares.  At the entrance a couple of GS4 security guards chatted in their cupboard.  A steady trickle of ill people entered for their assessment, some on mobility scooters, some wheezing, some smelling of booze and fags, most visibly anxious.  None struck me as likely to be getting a job any time soon.

One-by-one they went in for the interview, a box-ticking exercise by a nurse or doctor.  And then back out for the journey home.  Some of the doctors were delayed by snow so people waited and some would eventually have their interviews cancelled and re-arranged.  Posters on the walls showed happy black women sitting on wheelchairs being advised of their rights.  Tattered copies of Marie Claire sat on a table on one side of the room.  It was all mundane.

Here are people having their security kicked from under them.  Regardless of whether or not people can and maybe should work it's got to be a brutal experience after years of claiming benefits to be to be thrown into the JSA system without barely any regard to how people get through the day and live their lives.  I think the system is particularly harsh on people with mental health issues.

During the 1980s and 1990s most people with mental health issues were moved from the health system into the community.  As little support was in place many ended up homeless and addicted to drink and drugs.  During the 1990s this was a huge problem and gradually an infrastructure of support and benefits was put in place to enable this group to cope and actually live real lives.  Now it's all being stripped away wantonly with no thought for the damage caused to people and communities.


  1. Here's some info on that bomb shelter:

    TBH I'm surprised they don't open it to dark tourism. Could bring in a bit of cash.

  2. Yeah, it'd be worth paying a few quid for a look around. Probably a bit too far off the beaten track. Bristol should have some sort of tourist place for all its WW2 and cold war memorabilia though.