I swear on Bill Bryson's life this really happened.
Today I had to go in to a disability employment services provider run through Job Active (the old Centrelink Job Network). As I was explaining to them that yes, I was taking a break from uni with carpal tunnel, unstable pelvis, and following my breakdown last year, but I'm going back to study in a minute, I was able to quickly disabuse myself of any notion I'd had that disability providers would be in any way more understanding or caring than the regular kind. As I waited for the 900 pages of intensely personal information to be compiled so this for profit organisation could tick off my attendance and be paid more from the government than I have to live on in a week, I overheard what was being said by the guy in the cubicle next to me - and they were partitioned off cubicles, not offices with doors, despite the personal nature of what gets discussed in there.
He had a firm, clear, calm voice and I could hear every word.
This man was describing, in some detail, how he had to quit work because he was having trouble sleeping. Because his food was being poisoned with chemicals and hormones. Because his house was being bombarded with radiation. Because people were spying on him to check the effects of the poisoning. Was it his flatmates poisoning his food, the consultant asked? No, people were breaking in to poison his food. He couldn't buy food in bulk, could only buy small packets, because he had to keep throwing it out because it was poisoned.
On and on he went, with only that minor interruption. He didn't sound agitated, more a resigned "can you believe the shit I have to put up with" sort of tone.
And I thought, what the hell does it say about us as a country, what does it say about our corporatised welfare system, that a man so obviously and desperately unwell is being forced to go through the charade of job hunting instead of getting help?
For the agencies are not about getting help. They simply want you to tick the boxes so they can bill the government. I sat there this morning with my social worker hat on, worried - was this man okay? Is he getting help? - and fearing that the consultant had no formal training in dealing with complex mental illness. Why should she, really? No one this unwell should be looking for work. But she certainly did not ensure the man was being consulted with privately, which a trained professional in psychology, counselling or social work would have done in the first instance. So an unwell man is being seen by an unqualified worker with the stated aim of finding him a job he as things stand almost certainly wouldn't be able to do.
But do not think for a moment this man would have "slipped through the cracks in the system". This is the system. At some point, whether by human or system error, he has been funnelled through the Job Active system, which forces job seekers to attend useless appointments and make-busy courses, in exchange for their subsistence allowances, whilst the for-profit providers pocket great wads of government cash for doing so. It's a waste of time and money in any circumstances, but seems like a sick joke in these ones. And how many others are there?