Back In The DHSS

After last week’s Thatcherite hagiography (sic), we’re staying in the vein of Stroke Bloke’s favourite under-appreciated decade a little longer, with gritty British cinema and thoughts regarding the treatment and merits of benefit applicants. Oh, and a little HMHB.

“… there’s gonna be riot down in Trumpton Tonight.”
It’s like the ’80s never went away.

I suspect our younger and American readers may need a glossary for this post, so, here it is:


“DHSS”: a ministry of the British government in existence for twenty years from 1968 until 1988, headed by the Secretary of State for Social Services. Even two and a half decades after its abolishment, the initials ‘DHSS’ continued to be used by the general public to describe the Department for Work and Pensions or some of the benefits it provides.

“HMHB”: Half Man Half Biscuit. Active since the mid-80s, and “the most authentic English folk group since the Clash”. [Andy Kershaw]

“Back in the DHSS”: The first album by HMHB, and a play on the song “Back in the U.S.S.R.” by The Beatles

“The Beatles”: A popular beat combo from Merseyside. No-one knows what happened to them.


It’s been a long-running theme of this blog that the system of benefits for the disabled in NY is… well, a bit crazy. The initial website application is designed in such a way that the cognitively challenged need at least three attempts to complete it. Followed by a written submission and follow-up interview to get the stuff they still missed. Believe me, I know. And I’m functioning well enough to maintain a blog. Some might say. But my favourite part of the process was receiving yet another letter from the state simply informing me that a failure to turn up for my appointment could result in a dismissal of my case. No mention of the appointment itself, including time or place; no request for any further materials. When your mental confidence is already shot, receipt of such a letter can really fuck with you. In fact, it’s a letter that pins down the spiritual date of this post more specifically:

“Whether he went on with the diary, or whether he did not go on with it, made no difference.”

Appropriately enough, I described my first visit to the local social security offices as follows: “The social security office was the embodiment of classic Urban Brutalism, and the length of the early morning line suggested that we were all queuing for bread.  The rush into the building when it opened and the old ladies in headscarves having screaming rows with the security staff backed that up, too.  I don’t think Stalinists would have tolerated the stink of piss in the elevators, though.  While the woman who collected my materials was nice enough, she now submits them for evaluation at the state offices, and I’m told that no one is successful with their first application.”

The mailing address for certain materials submitted as part of this process is the New York State offices, Albany. With a KY zipcode. My psychologist confirmed that a hemiplegic patient had an initial application rejected. Nevertheless, last week, I found myself continuing with the process, and submitting myself for physical and mental examinations. This was in a different building. No Urban Brutalism this time.

Where’s Ricky?

No, it was more like something from the work of M.C. Escher. Maybe the scene from Fifth Doctor classic, Castrovalva, that evokes Escher’s Ascending and Descending. Or the scene from that McEwan’s Lager advert that evokes Escher’s Ascending and Descending. Or Escher’s Ascending and Descending. The walls weren’t quite at right angles to each other. The floors were slippy enough to foil attempts to use a a walking stick. And, on a random basis, slightly cambered. To add to the feeling of Bedlam, there was a nice long wait between the mental and physical exams, during which a fellow applicant ranted at length about her waiting time at a volume clearly intended to draw someone else into her solo conversation. All while another applicant stood in the corridor spitting out random letters. Or, as the doctors would term it, “taking a sight test”.
Funnily enough, I was reminded of one of the Thatcherites’ ’80s arguments for stripping benefits: don’t treat the disabled like they’re disabled, or they’re going to act all disabled. Sure enough, I was feeling pretty non-functional by the end of the experience. Beth turned round to me at the end of my mental examination to intimate, “That was a bit much.” In fact, I hadn’t just deliberately flunked the exam. No, I’d remembered the words “apple”, “ball” and “penny”, as “rug”, “clock” and “flower” for a fairly explainable reason. Still, that’s what my kid would call an “epic fail”, that would explain the look of amazement on the examiner’s face. I did deliver my answer with a fair amount of confidence.

Don’t look for the alt text. There’s no subliminal message.

The last Orwellian aspect of a disability benefit application? It seems that the applicant’s examinations don’t arise until four months after his application and six months after [his] [hemorrhagic] [stroke]. [I] fail to see how this is relevant to the amount of work [I] was able to do in November. Or December. Or… you get the drift.

“Gritty British cinema can wait till Thursday, proles.”
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