Inside the "sweatshop" terminally ill Britons must call to get benefits

An anonymous phone-bank worker at Britain's Department of Work and Pensions describes the cruel system under which call are handled, designed to purge the faintest hint of sympathy and to likewise deny callers access to basic, vital information without which their benefits will not be approved, or can be terminated. The DWP is who you call if you've been widowed and need help caring for your children, or when you get a cancer diagnosis, or when your organs fail.

According to the author, the target time for each call is 23 minutes. Lurking managers listening in on the line will discipline (and eventually fire) workers who allow any of that time to be taken up by callers' weeping. They must not allow callers to recount the circumstances of their illness or bereavement, and must instead channel them into yes/no questions.

But these questions do not actually help the callers receive benefits. Instead, they deliberately omit information — like what "special rules from your doctor" means, or submitting regular "fit notes" signed by your doctor — that is necessary to get and stay on benefits, and employees who break the script to reveal this information also face discipline and termination.

The DWP has been a political football since the first days of the Tory-led coalition government in 2010, the symbol of how the government rewards "shirking" and "dependency." Part of the agency's work was privatised and given over to the French mega-corp Atos to run: under this regime, the DWP has become a never-ending fountain of horrible stories about profoundly disabled, comatose and even dead people who were found to be fit for work and denied benefits.

But you don't have to work for a private contractor to find yourself administering official cruelty that's one part Ayn Rand, one part Franz Kafka. And now, with a Poundshop Margaret Thatcher minus the charm running the country, it will get much more cruel.

I feel like crying too after this call, because I know I have failed this woman in so many ways. No time for me to cry though, there is no break between calls, the headset beeps again immediately and this time it's a woman with kidney failure. I'm failing her too, and afterwards I will fail the bereaved young father, and this afternoon there will be more and more people I fail to help. And this will continue presumably until the government finally finds a way to do away with benefits entirely, at which point our sick and disabled people will be left with nothing, not even my hurried 23 minutes of script.

I'm a DWP call handler and have no time to care about your disability claim
[Anonymous/The Guardian]

(Image: Bryce Johnson, CC-BY; fire, PD)

(via Dan Hon)