Originally performed by Max Upton
We understand the leaning toward rigid systematisations. Without them, the world is harder to navigate, messier, more unpredictable, less manageable, more complex – too much. So, this person is clean, that dirty; this one is good, that bad – and ‘bad’, more often than not, so that the first can be ‘good’. We understand that such systematisations’ project is dishonestly to render the human world a frictionless surface, and that in their attempt to steamroll resistance, to put down what stands up or sticks out, they will resort to violence, whether physical, political, economic or conceptual. We understand that when a system’s inherent purpose is to inflict this kind of violence largely to be seen to be doing so, the casualties will be all the greater. Atos, the French multinational tasked from 2012 to 2014 with removing citizens’ disability benefits until quotas were met, represented one such system. And HIV remains a condition whose complexities, not yet having been absorbed by this machine, can appear to its jaundiced eye as just such an irregular feature on the landscape: an unwelcome presence, or a convenient excuse.
The analyst sits, a folder of papers on his knee.
The claimant came to me on the morning of Tuesday, 6th March, 2012. She was unaccompanied. (Pause.) (Reciting.) Able to get to, and navigate, an unfamiliar place outside of the claimant's home, unaided by another person. (Pause.) To paraphrase. (Pause.) Or a guide dog. That's— (Pause. Shifts.) My schedule was behind that day. Or I was behind it, and it was ahead of me. Or. Anyway. I was running late, so the claimant, in the waiting room, the claimant waited. And I knew then that the claimant could sit still for long periods of time. The claimant had filled her own forms in—that's manual dexterity. The claimant had filled her forms in correctly, and when the claimant got a bit heated with me later on in the appointment, she used a few words that if I'm being honest went right over my head. So I knew she had good written and verbal communication. The claimant made it to the room—there's a reason the building's an obstacle course—so I knew, among other things, that the claimant could walk up stairs. The claimant did not inadvertently evacuate her bowels during the appointment. I surmised that the claimant was not incontinent, and received no evidence to the contrary.
Pause. He looks at his watch. Sighs.
The claimant was, basically, there, with all of the appropriate paperwork to hand, so I knew that she could organise, initiate and complete personal action. She was there, so I knew that she was conscious during waking moments. She took her coat off. Free movement of arms. She took her hat off. Freer movement of arms. At one point, when she got a bit heated with me, later on in the appointment, she lifted her arm all the way up to gesticulate at the ceiling, and, well. (Pause.) 15 points, in these assessments— (Grunts.) 15 points classifies you as having limited capability for work. So. If you get 15 points or more, you get to keep your benefits. Right? What, at that point in time, we were calling your Disability Living Allowance. Or some of it, anyway.
The claimant got zero points. (Pause. Smiles sadly, putting the folder down.) Sarah.
And— I don't know why her. Out of all of them. (Pause.) What you don't realise, with HIV, is how much goes unnoticed. Stuff that our assessments don't pick up. (Pause.) But, no matter what, it's not supposed to come home with you. You leave it there, you— It's the suit, the, the desk, the office. Your job. (Pause.) And I don't feel bad about it. (Pause.) Why should I have to feel bad about doing my job? We all know it's a tough time. (Pause.) But I don't know what it is. About her. She just wouldn't, sort of, leave me alone. Not her, like the real her, just. The idea. I think I got to the point where I was losing sleep. And so I started to look into it a little bit. I did a bit of reading on the weekends, on the internet. And in the end, I went to talk to her, the real her, after all. (Pause. He fidgets.) (Tentative.) A lot of it is just the fatigue. It weakens you, especially if you can't afford to eat right. Sometimes it's the depression. Other things, too, though. She has joint problems. Arthritis that just comes and goes, so maybe the day you turn up in the office doesn't happen to be the day it's fucking you up, and it's not like they're asking us to look particularly hard for it. (Pause.) Seeing her then, how she was having to live, scrabbling, relying on food banks, I just wanted to help her. Any way I could. Like, set a charity up. Do— Do a walk. Make people understand. Because they're not— You've got all these disability analysts, assessing people, and we're not trained to know. They don’t train us. And it's— Huge.
People think it's not a problem any more. That was the first thing I learned. You know a mate of mine’s a teacher? And he was doing sex ed with them, and this boy, 18 years old, this kid thought that HIV was curable now. (Pause.) It's not. It's treatable. But it's chronic. (Pause.) (Fond.) She had a word for that too, obviously. She said it’s because it isn’t spectacular now. Which, basically. It doesn’t make good TV. Nothing’s exploding. There’s no asteroid about to hit the earth. Right? No big politicians locked in a room or something. And we don’t know how to think about things like that. They have to be the right size. Too big or too small, we dunno how to look at them. What is it? It’s not— It’s too big. (Pause.) And that’s true. (Pause. He shifts in his chair again, fiddles with the watch.) When she found out. (Pause.) In 1997, at that point it was different. A lot of people just didn’t expect to reach retirement age with it, and it’s not like people think, that it’s— (Angry.) It was her boyfriend, her fucking. Long term. After four years. And he didn’t even bother to tell her. And then, it was just, the expectation was just that you were cut short. Pneumonia or whatever it would be. And it was common advice to, to come to terms with that, with the fact that you only had a limited amount of time left. Quit your job, cash in your pension, and just make the most of it. She was one of tens of thousands! Right up to 2000! (Pause.) How do you come to terms with that? (Pause.) And of course she left him. (Pause.) Fuck him! (Pause.) And. And by the time they realised they were all going to live a lot longer, she had spent her money. And then she’d spent years out of the work force, which recruiters don’t like. She was a lot older than she had been, too, which they like even less. And when she did finally find a job, one that she could work around, and thought that she’d made a friend, and opened up to them about what she had— (Pause.) You don’t see discrimination in an assessment room. The invisible stuff. (Pause.) But. What you realise is that people sort of. Moralise it. HIV. They don’t want to think that it just, just happens. There has to be a reason, so you did something wrong, you did too much, too little, you weren’t careful enough. (Pause.) I think, honestly, that they sort of— They want to know that it doesn’t touch them. Right? Or that they’re different. So it’s more about them, in the end, than the person who actually has it.
(Long pause.) I don’t know why she was so good about it when I emailed her. Don’t really know why I wanted to see her myself. (Laughs, quietly.) I think we sort of surprised each other. And I knew she thought I was scum. When she got the tea through, I thought she was about to smash the pot over my head. But she was patient. I appreciated that. She just talked. (Pause.) One of the things she told me about, one that really stuck in my head, was this writer Tolstoy— (Pause.) No. (Picking up the papers and checking them.) Dostoevsky— Who came to London in the 1800s. And he. This guy had been in a prison camp in, in— Siberia, a few years earlier, actually freezing. He'd had a mock execution. Incredible. Opposed the Tsar. (Pause.) But what really bothered him was the place they were holding the International Exhibition in London, which was basically a massive, climate-controlled greenhouse. (Pause. Checking the papers, then letting them close again.) The Crystal Palace. (Pause. Hereafter with rising enthusiasm.) She said he thought it was like a metaphor for western civilisation. Because (gesticulating) it brought all of these incredible things from around the world together in one place, to be enjoyed, and it let them exist together. And it kept them safe. He said— (Pompously.) There would be no suffering allowed in there, and no questions left to ask. (Pause, without breaking enthusiasm.) But. The way it did all of that was by keeping those things on the inside, and putting all of the things that posed a risk, or that people didn’t— Kind of— And putting them on the outside. (Pause.) And I thought, yeah, that’s . . . That’s a fucking metaphor. She told me about her thinking, which had been her life, until. (Pause.) And since. Her writing was just, sort of— Casual. (Pause.) Political. (Pause. Finding a page, and his thread.) She said— That when we tell ourselves that we have to make tough choices, then— (Reading, with feeling.) Then it’s up to us, all of us, to make sure that the we making those choices, who benefit from them, really is all of us. And that the we they’re so tough for really is all of us, every one of us, and— (Pause.) And all it takes, she says, is a bit of courage, and imagination, and care. (Pause.) Finding the people in hell who are not hell, and giving them space, and helping them to thrive. (Pause. Pleased with himself.) Memorised that one. (Pause.) Italian.
(Putting the folder down again.) And it’s exciting. It’s exciting to talk in that way, and to think about big ideas. But I just wish . . . (Pause.) If I knew then what I know now? Before I got this job? (Pause.) Of course not. (Pause.) Not a chance. (Pause.) I have a heart. (Pause.) But I didn’t. And now . . . What can I do about it? Quit? What would that prove. (Pause.) I have a mortgage. Kids. Three credit cards. So— What? (Pause. Becoming increasingly agitated.) I’m asking because I want to know. (Pause.) How do I give someone space without having none left over for myself? (Pause.) Who’s helping me to thrive? (Pause.) I’m just one man. (Pause.) And it’s exciting, but it’ll never happen. And, and maybe I am on some inside. Maybe I am because I chose to be, and played by the rules, and climbed up the ladder, and worked to get where I am. (Pause. Angry.) Who says you can’t be a good person and still just do your job?(Long pause.) When Sarah came to me, it was a Tuesday morning in March, 2012. And Sarah was the claimant, and I was the analyst. (Sitting.) And it didn’t happen to be the day it was— Causing her problems. So when our grids and tables passed over her, she slipped straight through them. (Pause.) She said it wasn’t fair. (Pause.) And I tried. I tried calmly and reasonably to explain that it was nothing personal, that we simply had to minimise— That if, imagine if we went to war tomorrow, then . . . (Pause.) Wouldn’t we? (Pause.) And she said, no. Or yes, but— This isn’t a war. It’s her life. It’s just England, and I— (Breaking off, then reenacting, slightly pleading.) This is a tough time, and we have to make tough decisions. (Pause.) And, and she stood up (pointing as if to indicate her position) and she said, maybe it is. (Pause. Acting.) What? (Pause.) Maybe it is a war. (Pause. Normal again.) And I said that was a bit over the top, really, wasn’t it? The world goes on. (Acting – smiling.) Just work hard, Sarah, and do your bit. You’ll be alright. (Normal again.) And she said, well, what are you doing? And her tone of voice was . . . (Longer pause.) And I asked her to leave, because I had another appointment waiting.